GSK has announced it is building an eight-storey, 15 000 square metre facility at Rochester Park One North in Singapore where it will house its first Asia headquarters. The headquarters will act as a focal support point for GSK businesses in Asia. This follows several similar moves by other global companies. Takeda relocated its main offices from Japan to Singapore early in the year at the Biopolis site where it will focus on emerging markets, its vaccine business and its core research and development operations. Automotive company, General Motors, also opened a regional office in Singapore last year.
GSK suffered a significant hit last year from business in China where it was fined 479 million USD for bribery charges and terminated 110 employees for misconduct. In that respect, Singapore, with an established reputation of strict laws, a stable governing body, the common use of English as a first language, and an increasingly diverse workforce, provides a more attractive environment for global companies to establish their headquarters. Of course, the Economic Development Board of Singapore does its fair share by providing significant tax breaks and monetary incentives.
The sales and marketing units of GSK Singapore currently located in Gateway will be shifted to the Rochester offices once completed. GSK also has a large manufacturing facility in the west end of Singapore. A small drug discovery unit focussing on neurodegenerative diseases established at Biopolis several years ago was recently announced to be closing together with other research sites in Research Triangle Park, North Carolina. CEO Andrew Witty, spent several years himself working in Singapore, expressed that “GSK and Singapore’s histories are entwined”.
All this may spell an even greater foreign influx into Singapore, an issue which locals have become increasingly vocal about and have even impacted general election results in recent years. The small island just 716 square metres in size has been experiencing a population surge and now houses almost 5.4 million people. It looks like its on a similar path as big metropolitan cities like New York and Hong Kong (1100-1200 square metres) which have populations of 8.4 million and 7.2 million respectively.
One wonders if the citizens are ready for this big shift in lifestyle though. Living in Singapore (which I have done for most of my life), is very much like living in a bubble, albeit a hot and humid one. Spoiled by convenience, food is available 24/7 and the island is well-connected by trains and buses (though citizens like to complain whenever there is a delay of greater than 5 min). There is an extremely low crime rate, zero natural disasters, English is spoken by many often in the form of “Singlish“, and shops close as late as 9.30pm, some not at all (Mustafa centre for the win!). Yet the news/media is still regulated by the government, one has to apply for a permit to have a gathering/protest outside of a designated “Speaker’s Corner” which even then is highly regulated (no sound amplifying devices allowed, and intention to speak still requiring registration at the local police post). The increasing cost of living is also putting pressure on citizens, and without a corresponding upgrade of skills, alot more of the high-earning jobs are going to “foreign talents”, affectionately known as FTs by the locals. Despite the strict regulations on freedom of speech, citizens have made their opinions clear thorough internet forums and at election rallies, and the government has acted to cut down on the foreign influx. But it is obvious the government has big ambitious plans for Singapore, and the citizens will just have to do their best to keep up!