Tech Park: No longer a White elephant?

Dubbed as a ‘White Elephant’ by the media and public a few years ago, the tables are turning around for the Thimphu Tech Park Limited (TTPL).
Today it is running out of space with five Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) companies, seven startups and a data centre as its occupants. Together, they employ more than 800 Bhutanese youths crossing the direct employment target of by having more than 700 Bhutanese youth employed.
As a company under DHI ownership, TTPL is planning expansion within the five acres of land leased to it.  “However for the 13 acres that is under MoIC ownership next to the current IT Park, we are not sure what plans the government has,” said the Chief Executive Officer of the TTPL, Dr. Tshering Cigay Dorji. “We feel that it is timely for the government to think about the next phase of the IT Park given that the pilot project has been successful.”
While the biggest challenge remains in attracting the investors who mostly do not know about Bhutan at all, or about the existence of IT Park in Bhutan, Dr. Tshering Cigay said, “there will be more tenants that would come in provided we are able to reach out to them.”
“The existing Tech Park building is almost full already. If we have the second phase of the IT Park and the government promotes it actively, the IT Park, including the second phase, would be a major source of employment opportunities for our youth in the near to medium term future,” he said.
But the government does not seem so confident about the next phase. “After spending hefty amounts the consequences might be severe,” said the Department of Information Technology and Telecom (DITT) economist, Chencho. “In the first place the Tech Park never was a failure since it’s the first one in a country and its okay to take some time to gain shape.”
However, if the demand scales up from the potential FDI companies and if the interested investors turn up, he said that the government might have to consider the next phase. He said if the potential companies turn up they will  be accommodated either by renting or hiring a private flat depending on the size of the business.
“There were challenges in instilling investor confidence as Bhutan was an untested destination,” he said adding, the park were able to gain their confidence through consistent response, professionalism, honesty and integrity in how they corresponded and dealt with investors.
“Had we given up hope and not persevered, the results we see today would not have come about,” he pointed out. “The management team, supported by the important stakeholders like the MoIC and DHI, foresaw the success and worked hand in hand.”
The fiscal incentive, mainly tax holidays, for investors are a concern for the new economic development policy which has not yet been endorsed. “But we are hoping that the incentives would be extended,” said Dr.Tshering Cigay.  “If such incentives are offered, it also sends a message to the investors that the country is serious about promoting foreign direct investment. So they feel more confident about investing in the country even if tax incentives are not too important for them.”
He added that the Park has not only IT companies but also IT Enabled Services (ITES) companies and the majority of people employed are not from the core IT background. “All graduates have opportunities to work at the IT Park,” he said. “All FDI companies export services from Bhutan and they bring in much needed hard currency into the country.”
ScanCafe Pvt. Ltd, a US-based company that digitalises, edits, and organises photos and videos, currently employs more than 400 people and is planning to double the number by 2018. The company occupies about 50% of the Tech Park space.
Southtech Bhutan Pvt. Ltd., MultiRational Pvt. Ltd., Secure Link Services Bhutan Pvt. Ltd, and the newly established ZOOP KG Pvt. Ltd also employs a good number of potential IT graduates.
The Southtech Bhutan Pvt. Ltd which is the second largest commercial tenant at the IT park currently employees 37 Bhutanese numbers with 31 software developers, five business analysts, and one systems administrator.
The company is further planning to recruit 15 more IT graduates by 2017, however the CEO of the company Mr. Pema Tashi said, “Since the number of IT graduates are declining each year, it might be bit challenging to obtain the right caliber out of the limited pool.”
He said that the potential in Bhutanese youth cannot be underestimated. “We are fairly satisfied with the work outcome of our employees and even our promoters in Bangladesh are happy with it.”
The company in order to specialize the individuals in specific skills trains for a minimum of six month duration before getting enrolled as regular employees.

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