05 Jan 2017

The Straits Times

By Rachael Boon

Home-grown firms spread their wings abroad in bold ways last year as they went beyond Singapore's shores to search for elusive growth.

Data from trade agency IE Singapore showed that well-known names such as barbecued pork chain Bee Cheng Hiang and budget airline Scoot were among those that ventured to new cities.

Bee Cheng Hiang opened its first retail outlet in Japan in September, aiming high by going for the glitzy Ginza shopping belt in the heart of Tokyo.

Scoot took flight in a different way by starting Singapore's first direct flight to Jaipur, India, as well as heading to Hokkaido, Japan - making it the city's second direct connection to South-east Asia - in September.

Less glamorous but equally innovative industries also took the leap.

Precision engineering firm PBA Group expanded into aerospace manufacturing in the Philippines, with a production plant in the economic zone called Clark Freeport Zone. PBA chief executive Derrick Yap said: "We have set aside $1 million for the next two years for the plant, and expect to have 30 employees there by 2018."

The firm, which offers robotics and customised solutions, also set up a unit in Ommen, the Netherlands, offering sales, support, and research and development functions, and an aerospace manufacturing firm in California, the United States. It now has three employees in each city, with plans to grow the core team to 10 in each location by 2018 with an investment of $4 million.

Said Mr Yap: "These are cities new to PBA and we are starting at a slow pace for both countries.

"We will build a core team first and once they fully understand the overseas operations, the teams can grow into full-sized firms of about 50 staff each."

Raduga, which distributes mobile phones and telecoms equipment and provides solutions to retailers, was another firm that headed to Europe last year. It started distributing products to countries there, such as Bulgaria and Moldova.

Raduga general manager Cheong Jin Hao said: "In the former Soviet Republic countries, Raduga has experienced tremendous growth, with revenue increasing more than 300 per cent compared with 2015.

"This is largely due to the fact that the economies in these countries have started to stabilise after underperforming for the past couple of years."

After the Soviet Union dissolved, countries such as Kazakhstan have flourished. It is now an upper middle-income country with a gross domestic product of more than US$230 billion (S$332.3 billion).

Europe and Australia were also the favourites of some local property firms last year.

CapitaLand's serviced-residence business unit, The Ascott, bought a hotel in Irish capital Dublin for €55.1 million (S$83 million) in December, and Oxley Holdings launched its first development project, Dublin Landings, there in October.

Oxley also announced in December that it plans to buy a 40 per cent stake in Australia's Pindan Group, a leading property and construction firm, while Frasers Logistics & Industrial Trust is buying a new industrial facility in Sydney for A$58.2 million (S$61 million).

Reuters reported in September that Australia's resource-rich economy expanded at its fastest annual pace in the past four years, in the three months to June 30, "clinching a remarkable run of 25 years without recession as surging exports more than made up for a patchy performance at home".

Mr Ching Chiat Kwong, Oxley's executive chairman and chief executive, previously said: "Australia is a huge property development market that has been on our radar screen to explore and venture into."

Source: The Straits Times © Singapore Press Holdings Limited. Reproduced with permission