Getting smart with clusters
Publication: The New Indian Express
KOCHI: SmartCity Kochi, spread over nearly 250-acres in Kakkanad adjacent to the Infopark, when fully operational in 2021 will provide jobs to 90,000 people - the largest in any single location in the state. Four months after the inauguration of its first phase, SmartCity Kochis MD and interim CEO Baju George, spoke to Kochi Express about the plans such as the cluster based development of the company which is a joint venture between TECOM Investments, a subsidiary of Dubai Holdings (84%) and Kerala government (16%).
Interim CEO and MD Baju George
Q: When SmartCity was inaugurated in February 20, the biggest criticism was that there were no big names, and some unheard companies were given permission to operate.
A: Now, we have couple of Singapore companies and there are big plans to bring in oil research companies at the Digital Energy Cluster, which will be the first of its sort in the country. We are hopeful of bringing some big names such as Baker Hughhes, Haliberton into this. Coming to the question of small firms, what’s wrong in promoting startups. This is in line with Prime Minister’s ‘Make in India’ project. We have given only small space for the youngsters for their startups at concession rates to encourage them in their entrepreneurial journey.
Q: There were concerns earlier regarding the loss of green cover in the area due to the SmartCity project?
A: These concerns are baseless. On the contrary, our plans envisage retaining the green cover. Plus, we will have 60 per cent open area. Due to unnecessary controversies, we missed the IT bus though it was Kerala which first brought in the concept of an IT park through Technopark back in the 80s. Cities such as Bangalore, Hyderabad, Gurgaon, Pune, Chennai are way ahead of us because we failed to create an enabling eco-system.
Q: What are the enabling eco-system at SmartCity Kochi?
A: If we need to retain the high-end employees in Kochi, we need to provide the enabling environment such as good hotels, apartments, top-rung schools and other entertainment amenities including malls, cinemas etc.When we first spoke about this, it was considered as a major sin. Now, the Infopark also has realised the importance of eco-system and it is also having an international school and a 5-star hotel within its premises.At SmartCity, GEMS (Dubai-based international school founded by Sunny Varkey) will be present, there will be a convention centre, hotel (Holiday group), shopping areas. These are very important to attract companies and talent to the facility and we need to have a change in mindset of the people. The supporting eco-system is planned in the phase-III of SmartCity. Our immediate priority is to complete the first two phases, and bring in some big names.
Q: What are the plans for first two phases?
A: The first phase involves a four storied building with 6.5 lakh space, which is India’s largest LEED Platinum rated IT building. The project also involves building a power station, 3.7 km 4-lane road and one bridge. In the second phase, there are four co-developers involving construction of 65 lakh sq-ft of space, which will be completed in 36 months.
Q: How optimistic are you on the prospects of SmartCity Kochi?
A: Let me tell you one thing. When Dubai Holdings was looking at the possibility of establishing the first SmartCity in India, I was the one who suggested Kochi as the location though there were several other compelling centres like Hyderabad. Interestingly, I got support from another board member, who luckily had no idea about Kerala (laughs). I genuinely feel, SmartCity Kochi will be a game changer and it will bring a refreshing change in the mindset of the people, besides providing jobs to large number of our youngsters who now work in other cities outside the state. The SmartCity is developed on a cluster format; so there will be separate clusters based on various industries within the area; such as energy cluster and media cluster. This is the way forward.