Some say coastal province Sihanoukville is like China’s Shenzhen about 20 to 30 years ago. It has many advantages including a seaport and airport, characteristics similar to Shenzhen.
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“Shenzhen took 30 to 40 years to become an innovative and developed city in China on the heels of senior politician Deng Xiaoping’s reform policies,” says Sihanoukville Special Economic Zone (SSEZ) president Jack Chen.
“SSEZ is a driver of the Cambodian economy but we are not the main player that can make Sihanoukville the Shenzhen of Cambodia. It is good to have a beautiful wish but Sihanoukville wants to become industrialised by 2025. I think it is difficult to meet that goal.
“The government should first analyse and understand how Shenzhen got to where it is today. It is a long-term process which cannot be hurried up,” he adds.
For the moment though, the Cambodian province is challenged by poor infrastructure, skilled labour shortage, unreliable power supply, and lack of industrial support. These issues are familiar to SSEZ.
“Our plan is to increase the number of industries to 300 in the next five years from 153 now with a total workforce of between 80,000 and 100,000 but we are faced by challenges,” says Chen.
Currently, SSEZ houses industries involved in the manufacturing of garments, bags, and furniture but it aims to bring in more hi-tech companies such as biopharma, construction material, chemical industry and machinery.
“We have brought garment factories to Cambodia but the country’s industrial chain is still under-developed making it hard to bring some industries over. Cambodia’s infrastructure still needs to be improved to support the sector. It is compounded by unreliable power supply and lack of skilled labour,” he says.
Chen says lack of human resources is a big issue in Sihanoukville as it does not have a large population.Workers come from three surrounding provinces, some as far as 30km away.
“We are working with the Labour Ministry to employ workers from other provinces and planning more apartments and dormitories for the staff. For now, we provide daily shuttle buses for them to commute from home to here,” he adds.
According to Yow Khemara, Sihanoukville Labour Department director, 60,000 people out of Sihanouk province’ 244,000 population have jobs in the area.The problem of labour shortage is experienced in every sector including construction, and the service industry.
“We have ramped up training for workers to produce more skilled manpower,” Khmara says.
Business Writer, Capital Cambodia