On Christmas Day of 2014, Taiwan lost a county and gained a city, when the county of Taoyuan changed to municipal status. From the Taoyuan International Airport on its northwest corner to its mountainous and thinly populated southeast, Taoyuan is home to 2 million people and 47,000 companies including one-third of the nation’s top 500 manufacturers. In 2009, county government was running deficits that had built US$1 billion in debt, because population growth was not matched by economic growth. With attractive housing prices and good transit into New Taipei City and Taipei, the county was growing its population at four times the national average but was not attracting sufficient inward investment. Mayor Wu Chih-Yang focused his administration on business and investment attraction so successfully that deficits swung to surplus in 2011 and generated a US$160 million reserve.
Taoyuan’s success is not entirely home-grown. The national government has made redevelopment of its airport, which serves Taiwan’s capital, one of the nation’s top 12 priorities. Plans call for the creation by 2040 of an aerotropolis, a massive urban area whose economy is driven by the airport, using a mix of national, local and private-sector investment. Creation of the Taoyuan Aeotropolis and surrounding rail systems will provide a mighty boost to Taoyuan’s freight logistics and aviation technology companies, and will ripple outward through other industries. The aerotropolis project is forecast to generate $73 billion in economic benefit and create 300,000 jobs. The city’s investment attraction office has already won investment commitments from Cathay Life Insurance, Kintetsu Worldwide Xpress, Daiwa, Merck, 3M and SMC.
Building Digital Quality of Life
But Taoyuan’s strategy is not all about industrial development. The city has also invested in creating a workforce ready for global competition and an quality of life that serves today’s citizens as well as those the city hopes to attract. Collaboration with Chungwha Telecom and Global Mobile – and a national government goal to extend 100 Mbps broadband – have produced a broadband penetration rate of 90%, and made 100 Mbps service available to 85% of subscribers. Public education has been revamped with a global, digital economy in mind. The study of English has become mandatory beginning in elementary school, and nearly 100 elementary and junior high schools have installed “English classrooms” where students can be immersed in the global language of business. Educators from principals to teachers receive intensive training in the use of ICT to improve education and Taoyuan is updating the curriculum to take advantage of the latest digital tools. Digital Opportunity Centers in remote areas are providing thousands of residents with access to technology and skills training. Digital technology is even being applied to improve the environment. Using sensors to detect air and water pollution has allowed inspectors to catch thousands of violations, issue US$4 million in fines, and has sharply reduced new infractions. As the Aerotropolis advances from ambitious plan to reality, Taoyuan is preparing its people, organizations and environment for global competition.
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