Smart City Kochi rises again

Last week Kochi played host to a scintillating ceremony to lay the foundation stone for what has been billed as one of India’s largest knowledge-based industry townships.

Kerala Chief Minister V.S. Achuthanandan and Fareed Abdurrahman, Executive Director, Dubai’s Tecom Investments, were in a decidedly upbeat mood as they announced grand plans for the SmartCity Kochi project promoted by Dubai’s SmartCity, the joint-venture company formed by Tecom Investments and Sama Dubai, both members of Dubai Holding.

Lauding it as a fine example of public-private participation, the Chief Minister said the SmartCity project aims to become a “township for knowledge-based companies.” The project will be based on the successful business models of Dubai Internet City and Dubai Media City and Dubai Knowledge Village.

With an estimated investment of $350 million, the project aims to create 8.8 million square feet of built-up space with necessary infrastructure, environment and support systems, which will be offered to knowledge-based companies. It will also offer a host of business support services as well as residential, hospitality and recreational facilities.

‘Hub’ of excellence

Fareed Abdul Rahman, a senior executive of the TECOM Investments, was quoted in The Hindu as saying that the Kochi project was the second SmartCity, the other being SmartCity Malta.

“We envisage SmartCity Kochi to be a significant hub of excellence for knowledge-based industries. At an early stage, we had identified Kochi as a location with significant potential to become a knowledge-based industry hub,” he was quoted in the paper.

Expected to offer world-class infrastructure, environment and support systems, SmartCity Kochi will be a cardinal building block for the State’s knowledge-based industry growth and is anticipated to create 90,000 jobs when completed. The Kerala Government has transferred 246 acres of land to SmartCity Kochi as part of the agreement.

“After we signed the agreement for this project in May, we have had a large number of enquiries to build similar projects across the State. We will go ahead with similar projects in every district in the State,” the Chief Minister announced at the inaugural ceremony.

Whether these are mere pipe dreams and whether the 90,000 jobs promised will actually materialise is far from clear.

Yet, in the current flush of excitement in Kochi, the State’s commercial capital, no one seems really bothered.

Cluster history

Around the world, parks have helped usher in mini-industrial revolutions, ever since Alfred Marshall, an economist at the University of Cambridge, US, and the father of research parks, first suggested the idea of synergistic industries clustering together to enjoy economies of scale. He imagined a scenario where academic research and business acumen merged to create new companies, jobs and wealth.

The first such park, still regarded the mother of all technology parks, is the Stanford Research Park at Stanford University, in northern California, built in 1951.

It gave birth to some of the world’s most famous tech companies - from Hewlett-Packard to Yahoo! to Cisco Systems, not to mention hundreds of small startups across the US.

The International Association of Science Parks (IASP) officially defines a park as “an organisation managed by specialised professionals whose main aim is to increase the wealth of its community by promoting the culture of innovation and the competitiveness of its associated businesses and knowledge-based institutions.”

A park, it says, should stimulate and manage “the flow of knowledge and technology among universities, R&D institutions, companies and markets.”

Moreover, it should use incubation and spin-off processes to facilitate the creation and growth of innovative companies. Finally, the IASP says, a park should provide value-added services, and high-quality space and facilities.

The challenge

That remains the challenge for Kochi’s SmartCity. One key element in the success of parks is their ability to meet their client companies’ needs by providing the right mix of services and facilities, co-operation and networking.

One analyst says that good science parks do by design what occurred organically in California’s Silicon Valley.

How SmartCity Kochi designs its future will thus be crucial. Rather than be overly biased towards software and Internet firms, today’s successful parks focus on companies working in such cutting-edge areas as biotechnology, nanotechnology (and materials science), wireless communications, environmental technology and high-end graphics, animation and computer gaming media.

Will SmartCity Kochi be able to lure some of them to set up shop in Kerala?

Source: Sify

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