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Sunday, November 28, 2004

Cyberport and Hong Kong's Future

Dan Gilmor visits Hongkong and the much talked about Cyberport and files this interesting report. Excerpts(with slight edits and my comments at the end):

Too bad John Chu, this city's king of movie special effects, can't actually clone himself and his company. If he could make his digital magic work in the real world, perhaps he could turn a high-profile development called Cyberport into a huge hit. Planned as a miniature version of Silicon Valley, the often-maligned project isn't the abject failure some had predicted. But it's clearly not matching its backers' early visions, either, at least not so far. There was always a certain amount of wishful thinking in the Cyberport vision -- or, if the cynics are right, a different intention all along.Cyberport was conceived back in 1999, shortly before the technology stock bubble started to deflate. Hong Kong's government announced its intention to create a tech hub on prime land nestled along Hong Kong island, a dream setting where tech companies would thrive and provide economic fuel for a city facing big challenges in a new century. Hong Kong is a cartel economy, where key industries are controlled or at least strongly guided by the Li family and a few others and awarding this project to the family was crticised at inception. The multibillion-dollar Cyberport was planned from the start as a combination of office space and high-end housing, plus some glitzy stores. The office space is renting slowly. The luxury housing is selling like hotcakes. The government will own the office space, which isn't close to breaking even yet. Li's company will make big profits from the residential part, according to published reports, though the government shares in some of the proceeds as well.Most of the space in the first two office buildings is under lease to several dozen companies. One tenant is Microsoft, which also has space in Hong Kong's downtown area, called Central.

On a visit last week,to Cyberport 3, the third commercial phase of the project, one could find that most of the space is empty with silence in the middle of the day. But on the eighth floor of one part of the structure, the employees at Chu's Centro were working on a variety of special-effects and animation projects. The Plan is to move into new kinds of creative endeavors, including producing feature films entirely in-house rather than just working for others. Moving higher on the digital media value chain is what Hong Kong must do, said David Chung, Cyberport's senior manager for information technology operations, a few floors below in the Cyberport Digital Media Centre, a government-run operation that provides tools for developers working in audio, video, animation, games and other media.

Cyberport has some serious regional competition for digital media production and other office space. Singapore's government has poured resources into a media center. South Korea is becoming a hotbed of digital development. Shanghai has designs on the field, too. The bigger question is whether a government-sponsored project of this nature -- a "build it and they will come" scheme -- is a fundamentally flawed notion at the outset. Malaysia's "Multimedia Super Corridor" outside Kuala Lumpur hasn't exactly set the region on fire economically.It's way too early to predict such a fate for Cyberport. But few here will be surprised if it's ultimately better known for its luxury housing than its commercial space. In Hong Kong, residential development has a way of overshadowing other economic activities.The units in Cyberport's initial residential tower, Bel-Air, are said to be stunning, not least in views of the water and nearby islands. Oh, and they have super-fast Internet connections. Asian countries are mostly driven by government vision and what one government does, the neighbouring country tries to imitate killing viability - the winner is always one with efficiency in execution and one showing true business friendliness. Currently China , and earlier Japan, Taiwan and Korea could plan bigger and show some sucess. The much talked about India has no such ambition and happy with its creeked roads, choked airports, poor infrastructure that could get more worse when monsoon comes everytime - The net result is the same - Govt funded/conceived/run initiatives in emerging areas fail over time - some may show early success - but thats it. In emerging high-tech areas, it is entrepreneurism, innovation and unconventional way of working often helps enteprises/industry to hit the sucess mark. On a related note, this story (though not directly related) makes interesting reading.
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