The Iskandar Economic Zone, if it flourishes from all its potential, will be Singapore’s nemesis. Is has all the advantages over Singapore. It’s proximity could allow it to exploit fully, Singapore’s weaknesses and advantages to grow into a major economic centre. Given the right attitude, strong and task oriented management that is tenacious in the pursuit of its economic goals, the bulk of Singapore’s economic activity could go north, right into Iskandar.
This is the potential that Iskandar holds for the future. But there must be a political will to want to do that, to accept that economic growth and a highly intensive growth programme could also demand a price from the state. The cushy and laid back life style would be compromised, the pace of life fasten, and cost of living will rise.
Singapore has on its own way driven itself out of competition except for some key areas where it can still hold a big advantage over Iskandar, the financial centre, the expensive and presumably good consumer markets, education, perhaps medical sciences, and high tech industries. But for these Iskandar can live with as there are many areas that Iskandar can take over and grow with a big advantage in cost of labour and land.
Singapore would have to give up many of its industries that are no longer competitive. It would only be able to hold on to some core interests. The rest of the economy, the bulk of its economic activities, will have to flow into Iskandar.
And it is not all bad really. Both will benefit from the expansion of the economic zone from Singapore into southern Johore. Of course Singapore would have to give up and lose out in many of the service industry and relatively lower skill businesses. Some of the higher skilled industries too will find a place in Iskandar to complement their operations in the island. A new level of cost versus benefits will be established, with the cost of living coming down in Singapore, and winding down also of many economic activities that will go the Iskandar way.
Iskandar, from a new and lower base, will absorb and inherit many of the businesses from the island as long as it plays its card right. And Johore will be the main beneficiary of a vibrant economy arising from a bigger base, bigger land and catchment area, a bigger workforce and more investments and economic activities.
The caveat, is the Johore govt and population ready to make this leap forward. If they are, there is nothing to stop Iskandar from becoming a fully developed and integrated commercial centre of a larger Singapore, an extension of Singapore as a regional economic hub. It will rise to replace the failed golden triangle of Batam, Singapore and JB. Singapore and Iskandar will be good enough to grow into a bigger economic zone which could eclipse Batam and Bintang temporarily but not eventually.