In an age of disruption, no disrupter has been greater than Covid-19. The coronavirus’s toll on human health is undeniable. But business has also been hit hard. Lockdowns and quarantines have broken supply chains around the world. Shipments of goods, including food and medicines, have run into roadblocks, leaving countless people in need. The virus exploited weaknesses in our immune system. The pandemic exposed vulnerabilities in our global system of manufacturing and trade.
One country that has managed to contain the pandemic, keep its factories churning, and supply chains flowing is the Kingdom of Thailand. Nowhere has that been more evident than in the Eastern Economic Corridor (EEC), Thailand’s advanced development zone, and home to clusters of hi-tech industries. The pandemic forced parts of the economy to shut down, but the Corridor’s logistics networks – its ports, airports, trains, highways, and digital links – remained operational. Meanwhile, the government is building even more infrastructure to boost connectivity further. Investors are taking note of that commitment and resilience as they rethink how to do business in a changed world.
“Business continuity is now a more important consideration, as is diversification,” said Dr. Luxmon Attapich, Deputy Secretary-General of the EEC. Thailand and the EEC are providing those. Once regarded as a backwater, “Southeast Asia is a viable commercial supply chain location,” according to the U.S.-ASEAN Business Council. And within Southeast Asia, the EEC is the largest, most strategically located, fully integrated and connected hub for advanced industries.
The Corridor’s wealth of supporting businesses and logistical options saved the day for Quantum SPT, said Mario Schiller, the company’s operations manager. When China shut down and stopped producing parts for the industrial pumps Quantum manufactures in Thailand for export, Schiller was able to find Thai firms willing and able to make them. He intends to keep sourcing from those companies going forward. When the movement of people was restricted to stop the spread of the virus, the government ensured his employees could still get to work. When distressed global airlines canceled cargo flights, he was able to ship goods from the EEC’s Laem Chabang seaport. “Thailand showed it is crisis proof. It is a great place to be,” Schiller said.
The EEC’s 12 targeted industries are saving the day for others too. The Corridor’s companies are making essential medical equipment and pharmaceuticals. Its firms excel in biotechnology. They are innovating to produce healthy “food for the future.” Others produce smart electronics, next-generation vehicles, and aviation and aerospace technology. All are supported by an extensive ecosystem of suppliers, skilled workers, research facilities, and advanced logistics.
One silver lining of the pandemic has been an acceleration in the adoption of digital technologies, another EEC targeted sector. Companies in the EEC are rapidly incorporating automation, robotics, and artificial intelligence in production. The Corridor’s expanding 5G network facilitates technologies that require the Internet of Things.
Thailand leads ASEAN in 5G rollout, according to the Nikkei Asian Review. By the end of this year over nine million Thais will be covered by 5G with that number projected to exceed 30 million in the next five years. With 134 percent mobile phone penetration and 100 percent of mobile internet users connected to broadband, Thais are ready for 5G. Should another crisis strike, businesses in Thailand are well prepared to keep working.
The embrace of innovation and cutting-edge technologies complements the Kingdom’s traditional strengths. Thailand has a long track record of business-friendly policies, a willingness to meet investors’ needs, a diligent and adaptable workforce, commitment to free trade, and a welcoming attitude to foreigners. The Kingdom is also steadily rising in global rankings for ease of doing business, competitiveness, e-government, innovation, logistics performance, and global connectedness. U.S. News and World Report named Thailand the best country in the world for starting a business in 2019.
The Kingdom is striving to do even better for investors. The government recently cut taxes in half for companies that invest at least $33 million in businesses involved in the EEC’s 12 targeted industries. More tax breaks are available for companies investing in automation, higher technologies, research, and skills development.
Thailand has weathered global economic contagions, a tsunami, massive floods and other disasters. And every time it emerges stronger and more resilient. In this era of disruption, Thailand is proving it is among the strongest links in any supply chain.