Starting from 1980’s, Hong Kong has gone through a lengthy period of de-industrialization when service industry became the key pillar of local economy. Today, if Hong Kong wants to revitalize its economy, it needs to count on re-industrialization to help shift the service-oriented economy to an innovation-led economy.
The community has come to a consensus that re-industrialization is the way forward. The Hong Kong Polytechnic University (PolyU) has been organizing a four-part webinar series themed “Booting Re-industrialization”. The first webinar held on 30 September aimed to explore whether re-industrialisation is ready to take off in Hong Kong.
Professor Man Hau-chung, Dean of PolyU Faculty of Engineering said, “University is a key stakeholder in re-industrialization. With technology being the most important component of re-industrialization, universities, with its advanced research facilities and strong research team, are most ready to provide the much-needed support for various industries.” He stressed that PolyU excels in professional education, applied research and partnership and is the ideal partner for industry to go through re-industrialization.
Dr Daniel Yip, Chairman of Federation of Hong Kong Industries, considers the prospect for re-industrialization in Hong Kong very promising. While re-industrialization is commonly referred to making use of high-end technology such as IOT, AI, new materials and smart production procedures to upgrade industries, Dr Yip has a broader definition of industry. He is of the view that industry should not just be confined to manufacturing, it should mean all the processes involved, including purchasing, research, design, manufacturing, engineering, branding and marketing. He said, “re-industrialization means innovating all the processes involved.”
Dr Yip advocated a four-pronged approach for re-industrialization, which he termed it as “the next normal of Hong Kong industry”.
- Relocating factories: enterprises can choose to locate the different processes of business: purchasing, manufacturing, engineering, legal, finance and other professional services in different countries, according to their comparative advantages. For example, the ASEAN and the African countries are ideal places for setting up manufacturing bases.
- Exploring new markets: While China is the targeted market with its 1.4 billion of population, the consumption power of many ASEAN countries cannot be neglected.
- Developing Hi-tech products: The focus should be on talent development, product design, manufacturing and intellectual property. Exporting technology and high-end skills should also be considered.
- Enhancing local production: A number of local industries including jewellery, food, green technology, printing and smart manufacturing still enjoy much competitive edges. With enhancement in technology, they do have good potentials for further development.
Dr Sunny Chai, Chairman of Hong Kong Science and Technology Parks Corporation (HKSTP), said among the eight focus areas of HKSAR Government in the promotion of innovation and technology, four of them are directly related to re-industrialization. They are:
- Increase resources for R&D;
- Pool technology talent;
- Provide investment funding; and
- Provide I&T infrastructure.
As for the direction of re-industrialization, Dr Chai said we should focus on three areas:
- I&T development: Hong Kong should be used as the base for nurturing new technology. Upon confirmation of the readiness of the technology, the manufacturing process can take place in the Greater Bay Area or AESAN countries. Novetex is one of the examples.
- Critical process: All the critical, R&D-driven process, proprietary fabrication and testing techniques should take place in Hong Kong for ensuring quality and IP protection. Medical devices are among the examples in this category.
- Traditional pillars: Efforts should be devoted to upgrade the quality and productivity of some traditional industries such as the food industry, and to deal with the labour shortage problem so as to facilitate their sustainable development.
Dr Chai said, “the work of HKSTP in recent years has greatly helped boost re-industrialization.” Within the 4 million sq.ft of R&D Office and lab space in HKSTP, there are over 9,000 R&D professionals and more than 900 technology enterprises. Other than transforming the industrial estates to cope with the new industries, various new facilities including Microelectronics Centre, Data Technology Hub, Precision Manufacturing Centre and Medical Accessory Resilience Supple Centre have been / will be set up, thus providing very good back-up for re-industrialization.
Dr Bobby Lui, President of Hong Kong Young Industrialists Council, was the moderator of the webinar. He said, “Made-in-Hong Kong is a valuable brand. With the concerted effort of stakeholders from the manufacturing, academic and research sectors, re-industrialization will sure bring immense benefits for Hong Kong.”
Professor Man said while Hong Kong should go for re-industrialization in full speed, we need to take into consideration of the world’s needs as well as the capabilities and strengths of Hong Kong. In his view, Hong Kong should focus on artificial intelligence, virtual reality, wearable technology, internet of things, robotics, 3D printing and advanced manufacturing.
Professor Man further pointed out that among the 28 academic departments in PolyU, many of them are related to the major industries in Hong Kong and so could nurture enough talents to support re-industrialization. PolyU has proactively enhanced the research facilities in recent years, setting up a number of State Key Laboratories, Hong Kong Branches of Chinese National Engineering Research Centres, as well as University Research Facility in 3D Printing, Behavioral and Systems Neuroscience, Big Data Analytics, Chemical and Environmental Analysis, Life Science, Materials Characterization and Device. With over 1000 researchers, PolyU has made important breakthroughs in aerospace, new drug development, food safety, big data, artificial intelligence, cloud computing, microelectronic and precision medicine. Excelling in partnership, PolyU has entered into collaborative agreements with various leading enterprise including Boing, Alibaba, with a view to achieving win-win scenario in re-industrialization.
According to Professor Man, from basic research to launch of product, there are usually eight to nine stages. The initial few stages, from basic research to technology development, usually take place in the universities, while the last few stages including system development, system test, launch and operation are usually taken up by the enterprises. The knowledge transfer stage in the middle is usually the gap which cannot be easily closed. As it is difficult for researchers and enterprises to come to a consensus, a lot of research outputs have been wasted. PolyU in recent years has stepped up its effort in knowledge transfer, hoping to bridge the gap so that the research deliverables will be appropriately used to support re-industrialization and to boost the economy.
Professor Man said, “though research has commanded increasing attention nowadays, Hong Kong is still short of leading technology companies”. PolyU has been working hard to build partnership with major technology enterprises and it hopes the HKSAR Government could take initiative to invite mega technology companies to station in Hong Kong, which could help boost the research culture and nurture more research talents.
Throughout the discussion, the four speakers at the webinar shared a common view that re-industrialization does not mean bringing back the labour-intensive production line to Hong Kong, the key is “innovation and technology” and “talent development”. There are a number of local universities ranked top 100 in the world. Their capabilities in innovation and technology as well as talent development are highly recognised. As for the Government, apart from promoting innovation and technology, various funding schemes have been launched in recent years. All stakeholders should make use of these unprecedented opportunities to partner with the Government, academia and the research sector to help transform Hong Kong into an innovation-led economy for the benefits of the society.