Dr Goh Keng Swee addressing the inaugural Jurong Town Corporation (JTC) Board meeting in June, 1968.
Jurong New Town and Jurong Industrial Estate
Jurong New Town and the accompanying Jurong Industrial Estate were the two most ambitious projects the government undertook during the 1960s. It was helmed by former Finance Minister Dr Goh Keng Swee and transformed the former swamplands of Jurong into a key-manufacturing sector that provided jobs for thousands of Singaporeans, all while creating a brand new housing estate altogether.
Former Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew seen surveying the site of what would come to be Jurong Industrial Estate with Han Sui Sen, Chairman of the Economic Development Board (EDB) on 27 October 1962. (Image from National Archives Singapore)
When the People’s Action Party (PAP) came into governance in 1959, unemployment was 14%, or 200,000 people. The future of once staple industries like entrepot trade and associated services like banking and finance were looking dismal. Goh, whose father himself had been through the Great Depression of the 1930s, saw industralisation and the promotion of entrepreneurship as the way to go for Singapore. With that foresight, by 1961, the first land areas in Jurong were cleared to make way for the construction of factories under the supervision of the Economic Development Board (EDB).
Given Singapore’s lack of a track record in manufacturing, labour unrest during the 1950s, and high investment costs to build an industrial estate from scratch, many doubts soon arose at the feasibility of the project, with some labeling the industralisation of Jurong a massive mistake or even ‘Goh’s Folly’.
Even in 1963 when the industrial estate was ready for production, investors, particularly local businessman, were still unsure of Jurong’s feasibility. It was left to numerous incentives such as a ready industrial infrastructure, tax incentives through the Pioneer Industries Scheme, and promise of conducive labour relations that got the first core company, the National Iron and Steel Mills (NatSteel), to open officially in Jurong on 13 Jan 1964.
To further encourage investors and create a positive impression that Jurong was ‘open for business’; Goh got the EDB to arrange for him to open several factories each week, ensuring wide media coverage for them and incoming investors. At one point of time, Goh even got the EDB to conduct one factory opening ceremony daily over a period of three months.
To help create better publicity and show that Jurong Industrial Estate was ‘open for business’, Dr Goh Keng Swee got the EDB to get him to officiate in the opening a factories on an almost daily basis across the three-month period. (c.1969. Image from National Archives Singapore)
Jurong Industrial Estate would soon become the heartbeat that would drive the steady growth of Singapore’s new manufacturing sector. It added some 10,000 jobs between 1963 and 1965, which increased to 15,000 additional jobs annually by the end of the 1960s.
To help meet the need for worker housing in Jurong, some 7,000 low cost homes and shopping units were built in Jurong by 1964. (c.1964. Image from Jurong Town Corporation)
By 1969, Jurong Industrial Estate was home to 181 factories with a workforce of more than 20,000. (c.1960s)
Jurong New Town
Although the industralisation of Jurong finally saw success, its remoteness and lack of social amenities proved to be a strong factor in Singaporeans shunning provision of services and living within in the estate. So in 1968, the Jurong Town Corporation (JTC) Bill was passed, giving JTC full reign in the development of infrastructure of in the estate of Jurong New Town. This led to the introduction of social amenities in estates like Taman Jurong, improvements in bus services, medical facilities, and perhaps the most notable of all, a 700-acre public park named Chinese Garden, or Jurong Gardens.
To help encourage more Singaporeans to shift to Jurong to live and work, the Jurong Town Corporation started developing numerous social amenities such as the iconic Singapore Chinese Garden. (c.1980s. Image from National Museum of Singapore)
Jurong’s housing, which began with a modest 7,068 low-cost units in 1964, would soon grow to over 20,000 flats of varying designs and sizes by 1976, including the famous H-shaped block in Boon Lay Gardens.
Jurong’s success and future
The success of the Jurong Industrial estate saw its contribution to Singapore GDP increase by $724m within the decade. This enabled its shift towards capital-intensive industries such as engineering and shipbuilding during its second stage of development, as well as the setup of the International Business Park in 1992.
A view of the Jurong estate today. (c. 2015. Image from ghettosingapore.com)