Many countries have a north-south economic divide. Taiwan is no exception and Changhua County, for all of its natural beauty and abundance, is on the wrong side of it. The county is known as the “barn” of Taiwan, producing a wide range of agricultural products, and attracts tourists with hiking, biking, eco-touring and cultural and food festivals. But it is exposed to the same forces that affect other rural areas in industrialized nations: loss of population, particularly of the young, and a corresponding rise in the average age of its people. It has more small-to-midsize businesses than any other county in Taiwan but most are unregistered factories with limited capital and resulting low productivity.
Establishing Innovation Zones
The success of Central Taiwan Science Park, founded in Taiching (2013 Intelligent Community of the Year) has become an unexpected catalyst for change. The latest phase of the Science Park’s expansion has extended into the county and given new impetus to the county’s plans to develop its own innovation zones. It already possesses vital assets: multiple universities, colleges and technical schools and successful companies specializing in metals, glass art, aerospace, textiles and bicycles. Over the past decade, Changhua County has worked to create the ecosystem needed to realize the value of these assets. It has built an open access broadband network through which private-sector carriers can reach 99% of the population, and household penetration has risen from very low levels to more than 60%. To drive adoption, its offers free Internet instruction that has reached 30,000 residents to date. The county has also launched an online industrial development platform that showcases company products and guides users seeking development opportunities to available factories and sites. This integrated system empowers local business to market internationally and helps factories to upgrade their operations. It is just one of many e-government systems in planning or operation, ranging from tourism and urban planning apps to a social welfare and public safety platform that already process 90% of government documents online.
There is still far to go, but Changhua County is already seeing results. Better national and international marketing has boosted the export of agricultural products by 15 times in the past five years. University-business-government collaboration has established the Central Taiwan Textile R&D Project, the Metal Industries R&D Center and Bicycle Center, among others, to create new products and processes. Last year, the county attracted US$149 million in private investment, winning a national economic development award, and numbered Google among its new corporate citizens. The “barn” of Taiwan is finding ways to add new economic energy to its high quality of life.