Voices of Digital Communities

Let's Get It Done

Listen to the podcast     Follow ICF on Twitter You can actually feel the difference between an emerging economy and a mature ...

by / April 28, 2010

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You can actually feel the difference between an emerging economy and a mature one.  I recall it from trips to Malaysia and India.  When you visit a place where the economy is growing like mad, there is electricity in the air.  It's the energy of hope.  People might not have any more idea where they're going than I do, but they know they're going somewhere and that it's going to be big.  In large, mature economies, on the other hand, the highs and lows are muted.  There's a lot more to lose and less faith in what there is to be gained.  Like big ships at sea, they take a long time to get up to speed and a long time to turn in a new direction. 

I have not had the privilege of visiting Suwon, South Korea - that opportunity went to my colleague John Jung - but I bet I know what it feels like.  I have just finished writing their Top Seven Intelligent Community profile on our Web site, and I recognize the attitude.  It says "let's get it done."  The 1997 Asian economic crisis made Mayor Yong Seo Kim and his leadership team lose faith in a future that depended on South Korea's enormous chaebol companies.  So, they set about building an economy whose growth would be based on small-to-midsize enterprises (SMEs) specializing in IT, biotech and nanotechnology. 

And they got it done.  Fast forward a few years, and Suwon was home to three new industrial complexes and nine multi-tenant technology buildings.  The new Kwangkyo Techno Valley campus is now full of research institutes set up by business, universities and government working hand in hand.   

South Korea already has one of the finest broadband infrastructures in the world, but Mayor Kim and his team wanted ICT to be ubiquitous in Suwon.  They got it done.  A lot of investment later, the U-Happy Master Plan had created a 1 Gbps e-government network.  They integrated systems for taxation, real estate, public health and safety, transportation and city administration, and put them online.  An e-services gateway handled 600,000 transactions last year from 10 million unique visitors. 

In its nomination for the Top Seven, Suwon wrote that "Investment in education is one of the most sound and rational outlays of capital that a government can make."  Between 2002 and 2009, the city backed up that proposition by investing more than US$360m in upgrading school facilities, opening new schools and expanding staff. 

Globalization is much on their minds.  So they opened the Happy Suwon English Village in 2006 to offer intensive learning in the global language of business to 7,000 elementary school students per year.  A new Suwon Village of Foreign Languages, which opens this year, will offer the same environment for Chinese and Japanese.  In 2007, Suwon established the Gyeonggi Suwon Foreign School.  It aims to make the city a premier destination for expatriates with families working for Korean multinationals.  And with all of this focus on languages, they are not exactly ignoring technology.  The city holds an annual Suwon Invention Competition for students and sends contestants to the World Innovation Olympiad every year.  Since 2004, Suwon has organized an annual Information & Science Festival, which attracts 60,000 paid registrants to a National e-Sports Competition, National Intelligent Robot Competition, Professional Gamers Exhibition and much more. 

It's not as though the global recession missed South Korea.  Well, okay, technically speaking, growth never quite turned negative, because the government poured in fiscal stimulus.  But from November 2008 through March 2009, exports slumped every month by double-digit amounts.  When your economy has been growing 7-10% for years, that feels like a recession.   The difference is attitude.  While government and business in Europe and North America have been obsessed with how much and how fast to cut, Suwon has been thinking about how to win the next round of the economic game.  They may not know exactly where they are going, but they know they are going somewhere, and it's going to be big.
Robert Bell Co-founder of the Intelligent Community Forum

Robert Bell is co-founder of the Intelligent Community Forum, where he heads its research and content development activities. He is the author of ICF's pioneering study, Benchmarking the Intelligent Community, the annual Top Seven Intelligent Communities of the Year white papers and other research reports issued by the Forum, and of Broadband Economies: Creating the Community of the 21st Century. Mr. Bell has also authored articles in The Municipal Journal of Telecommunications Policy, IEDC Journal, Telecommunications, Asia-Pacific Satellite and Asian Communications; and has appeared in segments of ABC World News and The Discovery Channel. A frequent keynote speaker and moderator at municipal and telecom industry events, he has also led economic development missions and study tours to cities in Asia and the US.