JOHOR BARU 12 November 2014 (NST STREETS JP295Y) Legoland Malaysia Resort wins Excellence Awrad for Bset Attraction & Tourism Experience at the Expatriate Lefestyle's Best of Malaysia Awards. STR/EMAIL

JOHOR BARU: In November this year, the Iskandar Malaysia growth corridor will celebrate its 10th-year anniversary.

Iskandar Malaysia was unveiled back then amidst much excitement. It was the first of many regional growth corridors in the country, and today, it remains one of the most vital economic contributors on a national level.

For those living and working in south Johor, the changes seen in the past decade are nothing short of staggering.

Back then, the new township of Iskandar Puteri was still under construction with the new state administrative centre in Kota Iskandar as its centrepiece.

Today, the township is bustling with commercial centres, higher education institutes, medical facilities, a sports complex, theme parks, hotels and new housing projects.

It is the new nerve centre in the south, thanks to concerted efforts by the state and federal governments and continued involvement of a long list of property developers, who now turn to Johor to take advantage of the boom.

A rapid succession of important milestones in the past 10 years enabled the people in Iskandar Malaysia to reap the benefits. Most notable among these is the abundance of employment opportunities.

Prior to the launch of Iskandar Malaysia and in the decades before that, job opportunities in Johor were focused on the industrial sector, logistics at the ports and the civil service.

Johor has always been known as a major centre for industry with major industrial zones in Batu Pahat, Muar, Pasir Gudang and Johor Baru since the 1970s. But, the stagnation of growth since then required Johor’s development to be taken to the next level.

Iskandar Malaysia was borne out of a desire to further develop the state by taking advantage of its major focus point in the greater Johor Baru area. The growth corridor became an amalgamation of economic zones that were previously planned as separate projects.

Today, these are known as the five flagship zones of Iskandar Malaysia — the Johor Baru city centre, Iskandar Puteri, Western Gate development in Port of Tanjung Pelepas-Tanjung Piai, Eastern Gate Development in Pasir Gudang-Tanjung Langsat and the Senai-Skudai area.

During a visit to Johor last month, Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak revealed the figures of investments into the growth corridor over the past decade.

Between 2006 and June 30 this year, Iskandar Malaysia secured total committed investments of RM208 billion, of which 51 per cent, or RM106.43 billion, were realised as projects on the ground.

Malaysian investments made up RM124 billion, or 60 per cent, while RM84 billion came from foreign investors.

Investors are interested in Iskandar Malaysia due to its solid business ecosystem, its readily available skilled workforce and blueprint for growth that is being overseen by the Iskandar Regional Development Authority (Irda).

In March this year, the Iskandar Malaysia Comprehensive Development Plan II (CDPii) was launched marking the next phase in realising Iskandar Malaysia’s target of becoming a “Strong and Sustainable Metropolis of International Standing” by 2025.

Irda chief executive Datuk Ismail Ibrahim said among the biggest changes in the past 10 years was the influx of local and foreign workers into the growth corridor, and the emergence of a bigger small- and medium-sized enterprise (SME) sector.

This can be seen with more opportunities available in the services sector, including hospitality, food and beverage and entertainment, which complement “traditional sectors”, such as manufacturing, construction and education.

More than before, talent from every conceivable sector is relocating to south Johor.

Some people I spoke to admitted that companies involved in the architecture and surveying sectors offer market rate salaries that are similar to any other city in the country.

A friend who moved back to Johor from Kuala Lumpur earlier this year heads the corporate communication unit at a property developer. She admitted that south Johor was now a goldmine in terms of employment.

“There are many opportunities now compared with many years ago, to the point that there are not enough people to fill the vacancies. We need more talent to come back to Johor,” she said.

Many more people are heading south for opportunities, and this can only spell good things for Iskandar Malaysia and Johor.

Ahmad Fairuz Othman is NST Johor bureau chief. When not working, he loves driving along the coastal highway and trunk roads of Johor. A lover of food, music and theatre, he recommends everyone to try Johor’s version of ‘ais kacang’ which is drenched in chocolate sauce.

Source: New Straits Times