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[Weekender] Jeju aims for high-tech future

Jejudo Island, a repository of natural heritage loved by both South Koreans and foreign tourists, has been transforming its economic structure into more high-tech economy in recent years.

Gov. Won Hee-ryong said early this month that he aims to double the island’s gross regional domestic product to 25 trillion won ($24 billion) within five years from the current 12 trillion won. The provincial government is now pushing ahead with fostering high-tech industries including electric vehicles, bio and information technology, and medical tourism. 

Jeju Free International City Development Center. (JDC)
Jeju Free International City Development Center. (JDC)

Electric vehicles

There are around 500 battery-powered vehicles on the island’s roads. The government said it aims to replace all cars with electric vehicles by 2030 and turn Jejudo into a carbon-free island.

The provincial government’s willingness to adopt electric vehicles has been strong in recent years. Currently, around 20 percent of the nation’s 2,000 electric vehicles are located on the island. Consumers who buy electric vehicles on Jejudo can receive up to 30 million won in subsidies.

“We plan to make the island a test bed for all electric vehicles in the world to gather and receive evaluation from consumers. Some global automakers including BMW have already shown interest in the project,” said Won in a recent interview with local media.

The provincial government said this month it would purchase 1,500 electric vehicles by 2015. It also plans to adopt 29,000 green cars by 2017 for the public sector, and 94,000 cars for public transportation by 2020. Then, all cars will eventually be replaced with electric vehicles by 2030.

In order to make the island a test bed for global electric vehicles, easy access to charging stations is also important. Currently, the number of charging stations on Jejudo Island stands at 532, accounting for 25 percent of the nation’s 2,119 stations. The government plans to increase the number to 1,000 by this year.

“We also plan to make global electric vehicles platforms such as data centers to deal with all the information about the operation of electric vehicles,” Won said. 


Medical tourism

Jejudo has been famous for its beautiful nature and attractive tourist destinations. The island was ranked first on a national travel survey in 2013 in terms of customer satisfaction, natural landscape, cultural heritage, transportation and accommodation.

The island was also selected as one of the new seven natural wonders of the world in 2011 by nonprofit New7Wonders Foundation.

“Since it was introduced via the global media, the number of foreign tourists has risen by 60 percent every year,” said an official from the Jeju provincial government.

In recent years, a growing number of foreign tourists visit the island for medical purposes apart from its tourist attractions. The medical tourists come to the island to enjoy both health care and medical treatment.

Last year, local hospitals on the island had around 3,000 foreign patients ― 10 times more than 10 years ago ― and generated 2.4 billion won in revenue. Jejudo has focused on leisure medical industries which include plastic surgery, skin care and oriental medicine.

“The number of patients who see dermatologists increased by 91 percent and health examination centers by 110 percent last year. They account for around 45 percent of all patients,” said a public health official from the provincial government.

Chinese patients topped the list with 1,900 people, accounting for around 65 percent of the total patients, followed by Americans with 147 patients and Japanese with 133 patients. 


Jeju Science Park

Jeju Science Park, which is run by the state-run Jeju Free International City Development Center, was completed in 2003 in a bid to foster high-tech industries in a variety of sectors on the island, including information technology and bio technology.

With a total investment of 450 billion won, the industrial complex now has over 100 tech companies including Daum Communications, Nexon and EstSoft, which have around 1,100 employees.

A growing number of tech companies have shown interest in relocating their offices to Jeju due to its pleasant working environment and generous tax incentives.

“The survey we had at the end of last year showed that 90 percent of employees are satisfied working in Jeju. This is because the island’s clean natural environment makes them have less stress and become healthier. They can have more leisure activities as they save time by avoiding rush hour traffic,” said Jung Ji-eun, a communication chief at Daum Communications.

The government plans to complete the second Jeju Science Park by 2021 with an investment of around 140 billion won. This is part of its moves to speed up the restructuring of the island’s industrial structure into knowledge-based industries.

“The second Jeju Science Park will have the two goals of fostering the high tech industries of bio, information and culture technology, as well as developing the tourism industry,” a JDC official said.

Through this project, the government expects to have 278 billion won worth of production inducement and create 2,661 new jobs.


Lava seawater industry

Jeju provincial government said early this year that it would foster its lava seawater industry as the island’s key growth engine.

“Lava seawater can be fostered into high value added brands including beverage, food, cosmetics and spa products with its abundant minerals,” former governor Woo Geun-min said this February.

Lava seawater is salty underground water which has no polluted substances as it undergoes a filtering process in the rock formation. It is also abundant in the minerals, magnesium, calcium and vanadium.

The lava water industry was selected as a Jeju’s specialized development project by the Korean government in March. This project is aimed at fostering the food, beverage, cosmetics, tourism and renewable energy industries using lava seawater within the industrial complex on the island.

Currently, less than 10 beverage, food and cosmetic companies are located in the complex but the government plans to attract around 20 companies by 2017, and to double the size of the complex.

“We also plan to develop renewable energy from lava seawater by using the salinity difference which occurs during the processing of the water. The government plans to invest a total of 21 million won in the project by 2017,” an official from the provincial government said.

By Shin Ji-hye (shinjh@heradlcorp.com)
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