(Interview) Saemangeum Will Be Role Model for Local Development, Says the Governor

By Park Sae-jin Posted : November 4, 2009, 18:59 Updated : November 4, 2009, 18:59

Kim Wan-joo, Governor of Jeollabuk-do
The reclaimed Saemangeum area - once an estuarine tidal flat on South Korea’s Yellow Sea coast in Jeolla province - is likely to again draw the attention from the international community, not for destroying the environment, but for the efforts to pursue the sustainable development and conservation at the same time.

Saemangeum Gunsan Free Economic Zone (SGFEZ) Authority plans to build up the base where the area is the economic hub of Northeast Asia, by promoting 4 major projects for education, medical and health care, Northeast Asia development bank, and international mercantile exchange.

“Saemangeum will be one of top role models for local development by putting its name in the list of the Asia’s first eco-friendly cities in leading the green growth of Korean peninsula in the 21 st century,” said Kim Wan-joo, the governor of Jeollabuk-do, in an interview with The Asia Business.

As part of its efforts, the provincial government and the national supporting committee for Saemangeum project co-host ‘2009 International Forum for Green Growth and Saemangeum Project’ today in Seoul. The following is the excerpt from the interview with him.

-What are the main agendas for this international forum and what brought you to hold this event?

The theme of the event is the construction of eco-friendly future cities to lead the green growth in the globe. The forum is expected to build up the will to create the Saemangeum as a model area for low carbon, green growth policy of Korean government and talk further on the method to make the region sustainable and future oriented.

To do so, I am going to propose the plan to introduce the upscale and new transportation system including the airport and harbor in order to best fit the environment for green technology. In addition, the global financial institute like the Development Bank of Northeast Asia should be located in Saemangeum to achieve the goal of rising up as the leader in the economic zones of Northeast Asia. The financial service industry like international mercantile exchange is also needed to guarantee the high quality in setting up and maintaining the business.

From the perspective of making profits out of the zone, I am also going to suggest the development model to boost up the value of Saemangeum by attracting investment for international leisure tourism like Casino.

-What do you think is the first thing to do for Saemangeum to be the center of Northeastern economy?

The key is to attract the investment from home and abroad to lay the foundation of making SGFEZ lead the economy. Without the master plan for attraction, no investor would put a single won into the area. So, the provincial authority decided to design scheme with target which allures foreign entrepreneurs with a variety of appealing incentives and business environments.

From the same point of view, the elaborate structure for social overhead capital would be also needed to improve the competitiveness in the global logistics field. Neither local nor international company would open up the office in the area if there is insecurity about distribution and transportation.

What is equally important is the active promotion to provide the information about the advantages of the investment in SGFEZ whose special district has no private ownership, less regulation, and fewer administrative requirements. Given that the development project is still in the early stage, the name recognition would be raised up by expediting the setting up the 4 core business institutes including international mercantile exchange, Northeast Asian development bank, upscale hospitals and schools.

-Which industry do you see as a main target?

The target industry is the green technology business and the zone is first trying to appeal with distinctive incentives to researching institutes working on development of renewable energy and high-tech industrial parts. The tenants will be under the cheap lease for industrial site with efficient process for administration. In order to do so, a variety of investment exhibitions are held to promote the early purchase in lands for business. The authority also plans to act on alluring foreign investments from the U.S. and China.

-What are the incentives and advantages of investment?

I expect inquiries from the companies related to energy and equipment because we are going to start accepting the application to lease the site and construct industrial complexes to produce the wind power and fuel battery in collaboration with neighboring industrial parks in the region.

Now we offer companies moving from other city with incentives called relocation subsidy, which gives financial support with up to 5 billion won within 5 percent scope from total amount of investment. In case of massive investment, the company will be qualified to get 10 billion won at maximum within 5 percent out of total investment. 

Additionally, the employees of companies wanting to move to SGFEZ would receive the settlement subsidy with 100,000 won per month for 3 years up to 3.6 million won. The company will also get the financial support worth up to 500 million won when it hires more than 20 locals.

- What is the economic impact of Saemangeum project?

The economic impact by the project can be measured once the comprehensive action plan is finalized at the end of next month. I believe it is premature to forecast economic impacts of the project, which is still in development phrase and needs minor final touches and adjustments. But, I ensure that the analysis on the effects would be much easier once we see the final version of plan to discuss details.

- There is a concern that it is difficult to see salient benefits in SGFEZ from ones you can get in 5 other free economic zones in the country. What do you say about it?

Most experts point out that the reason that Korean cities like Incheon and Songdo failed to raise international awareness is largely due to over dependence on real estate development, abundunt regulations, and complicated administration process, and less effort to build up the manufacturing complex. 

Meanwhile, Saemangeum has one of the most attractive advantages to offer spacious and affordable land, providing a long-term lease up to 100 years to domestic and foreign companies. No other free economic zones in the country offer such extensive and generous lease terms.

Currently owned by the state, the reclaimed area are not bound by any private ownership and pertinent regulations, backing the SGFEZ’s position that its leasing process is simpler and faster than those of other similar ventures in the country.

It has also established online one-stop service portals and call centers in various parts of Saemangeum to facilitate administrative procedures for potential domestic and foreign investors.

- What is your expectation on the project after the forum?

We are going to add ideas and proposals from the forum into the comprehensive action plan at the end of next month. Upon the final version of plan, the specific schemes to create the industrial sites are going to be followed because the real investment will be only available when investors see the actual complexes categorized by 8 different functions. Along with a tide embankment scheduled to be completed at the end of this year, the project for Saemangeum development will speed up next year when the construction for the embankment starts. 

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