There was nothing but mud in Songdo, Incheon, some 60 kilometers south of Seoul, when South Korea ambitiously set out to reclaim the land and transform it into a free economic zone in 2003.
Now with high-rise buildings, inflows of foreign capital and infrastructure linking it with major roads, ports and an international airport, the Incheon Free Economic Zone, which also includes Yeongjongdo Island and Cheongna International City, seeks to make another leap by becoming a global hub for businesses ranging from biotechnology and services to tourism and logistics.
Eleven years since it was designated the country’s first free economic zone, the 133-square-kilometer IFEZ aims to become one of the world’s three prominent business zones that can stand out against others in China and Japan by 2022.
A panoramic view of Songdo, an emerging international city under construction in the Incheon Free Economic zone (IFEZ)
The IFEZ, with a population of 210,000 people as of last August, will be further developed in three phases to accommodate some 536,000 people over eight years, the IFEZ Authority said.
About 33 percent of basic infrastructure in Songdo, Yeongjongdo and Cheongna has been developed, with almost 60 percent of Songdo reclaimed, it noted. The Authority has carried out 22 percent of its urbanization plan for the IFEZ.
The zone, which has attracted $6.6 billion in foreign investment as of the end of August, currently houses more than 1,140 companies, including 72 foreign-invested companies. An increasing number of Korean conglomerates such as Kolon Global and POSCO Engineering & Construction are establishing their bases in the zone as well.
As it gains recognition as a business hub, with Songdo becoming a biotech city, Yeongjongdo as a tourism resort and Cheongna as a finance city, the IFEZ Authority said it seeks to develop the zone into a “test bed market” for the global services industry through deregulations.
This is part of efforts to achieve per capita income of $40,000 by spurring the services industry, which can help create more jobs. The development of an integrated resort in Yeongjongdo has created 35,000 jobs, while that of a finance town in Cheongna created 5,800 jobs, it noted.
The IFEZ development model is also being exported to countries such as Ecuador.
“The IFEZ will not only serve as the growth engine of this country, but it also represents Incheon’s passion and pride. We will see to it that the IFEZ can boost the services industry through market testing and deregulations,” said Lee Jong-cheol, commissioner of the IFEZ Authority.
By Park Hyong-ki and Lee Hong-seok