Mon, Oct 31, 2005 - Page 11 News List

Taichung's science park confounding the skeptics

BOOMING BUSINESS More than seventy companies are primed to invest US$31 billion in the park, which benefits from a stable supply of water and electricity

AFP , TAICHUNG

Workers outside a plant of ProMos Technologies Inc, a memory chip maker, in Taichung, at the central Taiwan Science Park construction site. Amid the rolling hills of central Taiwan, the massive US$31 billion investment is fast changing a landscape of sugar cane and sweet potato farms into lines of slick towers, and will house the latest in cutting edge technology.

PHOTO: AFP

Amid the rolling hills of Taichung County, a massive US$31 billion investment is fast changing a landscape of sugar cane and sweet potato farms into lines of slick towers, which will house the latest in cutting edge technology.

That technology will allow the Central Taiwan Science Park (中部科學園區) to deliver to the world's lounge rooms the latest in wide flat panel TVs and super computer screens, some big enough to match a three-seater couch in size.

But it is the speed of development and the rate of companies willing to sign on to the project, on the outskirts of Taichung City, that has impressed its backers and confounded critics.

Lai Ying-hsi (賴英錫), chief of the Taichung County Government's economic affairs bureau, said skeptics included members of a screening committee established after the Cabinet agreed to a feasibility study on the project in January 2001.

"They felt why does Taiwan need another high-tech industrial park while the other ones in the south are only half booked by potential investors due to economic sluggishness," Lai said.

Since the study, 72 companies ready to invest NT$1.04 trillion (US$31.04 billion) have won approvals, among them industry leaders including AU Optronics Corp (友達光電), ProMOS Technologies Inc (茂德科技) and US-based Corning Inc.

Lai said that it was Taichung's stable electricity and steady water supply which eventually convinced the authorities to proceed. Taichung boasts one of a biggest thermal power plants in Asia, while chronic water shortages have dogged science and technology parks elsewhere in the country.

Yang Wen-ke (楊文科), deputy director-general of the Provisional Office of Central Taiwan Science Park (中科籌備處), said the rapid pace of its development -- in an industry which is consistently tied to tight construction deadlines to deliver next generation products -- was a big factor in winning over more firms.

The first companies began opening their doors within 10 months of the project's drafting.

"The pace of its development is the fastest ever in Taiwan's efforts to build high-tech industrial parks," Yang said. "It changed so fast, you would be amazed by the vast differences registered over every month."

It took AU Optronics just 15 months to complete construction of an NT$80 billion complex to produce 60,000 panels a month, including some for revolutionary 74x60 inch television sets.

"AU Optronics Chairman Lee Kun-yao (李焜耀) said `if AU Optronics had built the plant elsewhere, the construction may not have been as swift'," Lai said, adding that the project was completed 47 days ahead of schedule.

"That is important to a time-sensitive industry," Lai said.

US-based Corning followed suit, with a groundbreaking in September last year for a glass melting plant that will produce compacted glass substrate to be used in LCD screens.

Then came local memory chip maker ProMOS Technologies, which is designing cutting-edge 90-nanometer technology to produce microchips and 40,000 300mm wafers a month in two projects which cost NT$85 billion to build.

While optoelectronics will account for 34 percent of the park's ongoing investment projects, the balance will be filled by precision machinery, biotechnology, semiconductor, computer peripherals and telecommunication projects.

"The demand for land is much stronger than our previous estimates," Yang said.

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