Nordic European Centre up and running

After Singapore’s Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong first mooted the idea to erect a Nordic Centre in the island state during a round trip to the Nordic countries in June 1996, this happened:

     Groundbreaking ceremony May 1997
     The Asian crisis erupts July 1997
     Construction contract signed February 1998
     Construction is suspended summer 1998
     Ownership structure of the project changed in 1999
     Construction resumed 2000 with rebranding to Nordic European Centre
     Project completed December 2000
     First tenants move in February 2001

     Few thought the completion day would ever arrive when the project was
halted.
     Even more so when Rune Juritzen, the man who first brought up the idea of a then Norwegian Centre and later worked very hard and succeeded to get Singapore’s government and the four Nordic ambassadors in Singapore to support the broadened concept, left the scene as well as his shareholding in the venture while Asean nosedived into a deep economic crisis.
     But here it is.
     And pretty much as it was meant to be.
     The look and feel is as first envisioned, a seven story purpose built centre with a flexible unit system for incumbent, small, growing and established companies supported by state of the art telecom/data cabling through the building.
     Interior design is light and modern with a distinct Nordic flavour.
     The restaurant and bar, the conference and exhibition hall, the underground car park and the reception. All of it in place as well.
     One stop professional business services are also provided.
     Only the media and information centre, that would have serviced tenants with Nordic news and information and corporate communications support, has been scrapped.
     Otherwise this is basically what once was an idea in 1996 that stands fully operational in the International Business Park in Jurong.
     But for the Nordic only concept.
     So what went wrong with that, why did you re-brand?
     “In the original plan it was designed to bring in only Nordic companies. But we found that by 2000, the world economy became so globalized and given the large size of our building, we need to widen the target group to include companies from all of Europe,” says Mr. Goh Ek Boon, CEO of Nordic European Centre Pte Ltd.
     “Maybe the Nordic companies are not so keen to stay together,” says Mr. Goh, in jest.
     “But the Nordic emphasis is alive. We do want more Nordic tenants. I have been to functions, meetings and gatherings of Nordic embassies and business associations trying to gain support and interest – and to understand you better. I also try to seek more support from the various Nordic embassies, especially for fellow companies arriving in Singapore. ”
     Six years ago it was very different.
     A group photo from the groundbreaking ceremony 27 May 1997 show the Danish, Finnish, Norwegian and Swedish ambassadors to Singapore together with Singapore MP R Ravindran of Bukit Timah GRC pressing the green lights to go ahead.
     But those pioneers have since moved to new positions elsewhere.
     The after crisis attitude to the centre from Nordic embassies and their business associations became one of indifference. Somewhere during the suspension period did the Nordic passion simply fade away.
     But to get the Nordic interest reborn is an uphill battle the energetic Goh seems to enjoy.
     “I like challenges. That’s why I took the job.”
     He has tried to localise Nordic functions to the centre.
     “But we are too far off the city centre to attract functions or exhibitions, I am told.”
     How does your one-stop-service-solution look like?
     “I have selected a panel of professionals that can be assembled within one day’s notice. Not so long ago I had a UK company here that signed up for office space. But still without the local legal corporate structure in place. So I asked them ‘gentlemen, can you be here tomorrow at 09.30 AM?’.
     They could. When they arrived a lawyer, an insurance expert and an accountant were waiting in the meeting room. I introduced them and left them alone to talk. Two hours later they came out and the UK executives told me that it was the most productive two hours they ever spent on business. They made their decision immediately after the meeting and the firm was ready to kick off in the shortest possible time.”
     What are the selling points today?
     ”We are able to provide the “One-Stop Service” for newcomers and we have the infrastructure and competitive rates that are attractive to even the more established companies. The ‘European Cluster’ is also an advantage.”
     How many tenants have you got today, what is that in percentage of total capacity?
     ”To date we have 52 tenants and our occupancy is about 75 percent. Sometime 1st quarter 2004, a substantial tenant will be moving in to take up 1100 sq m.”
     And Nordic companies of total number of tenants?
     ”There are 8 Nordic companies out of 52 tenants.”
     Any upcoming activities?
     ”We are always on the lookout to see how we can promote ourselves more to the Nordic countries. Where possible we would like to join any business mission to Europe and the Nordic countries. We make every effort to be present at major European events or trade delegation visits to Singapore. There is also a plan to organise a business seminar for those interested to know more about doing business in Vietnam.”
     How are your rents, comparatively speaking?
     ”We always price ourselves competitively. We adjust our rents in line with the market conditions. The market has been depressed for the last two years and we have also adjusted our rents to reflect that.”
     When construction of the centre began first time, an advisory Board existed with representatives from all Nordic countries, embassies, business associations, Jurong city officials etc. Was it dissolved later? If so, have you thought of reviving that idea?
     ”During the early days there were regular meetings with these representatives. Unfortunately, with the suspension of the construction this advisory board was dissolved. With the projected completed almost three years ago and with Nordic European Centre already quite known locally, such advisory board may not be necessary. I have been making my networking with the various business associations and am in contact with the Nordic ambassadors and their commercial counselors. Over the last three years, I believe they are familiar with me and I do get invited to their official functions. These put me in the loop with things and they are helpful.”
     Any other comments?
     ”Nordic European Centre is a unique development. It is the first of its kind where the development is strictly private sector driven to turn our Prime Minister’s idea into a successful reality. Being private sector driven, we understand what a businessman need and look for. There’s no dealing with governmental bureaucracy. We hope more Nordic companies will look us up. We can add value in your search to establish an office in Singapore. Your start up will be fast, hassle-free and cost effective.”

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