Zainal Amanshah is a leader with a tall order. As the CEO of InvestKL, he spearheads Malaysia's goal to attract 100 of the world's largest multinational corporations (MNC) to invest in the Greater Kuala Lumpur/Klang Valley (GKL/KV) by 2020. Zainal shares the strong business propositions that make GKL/KV an ideal investment destination.
Southeast Asia is expected to power Asian growth in the next two decades, with combined economies reaching US$2.3 trillion this year, and expected to hit US$4.7 trillion by 2020 - attracting more investments. How do you see Malaysia capturing these foreign direct investments (FDIs)?
In a highly competitive environment, only the most competitive nations will be winners. To complement the ETP, the government announced six structural policy reforms last year to boost our competitiveness.
We are committed to liberalising the economy. Out of the 17 services sub-sectors targeted for 100 per cent foreign equity participation this year, nine have been fully liberalised with the remaining eight to be progressively liberalised this year. Sectors liberalised include department/speciality stores, private hospitals and telecommunications.
Another policy deals with improving public service delivery, including enhancing the ease of doing business. Close to 400 licences will be eliminated by year end. Another 271 licences will be simplified before being made available online. The reform policies are progressing well.
The ETP has created an environment conducive for investment. As a result, Malaysia emerged as Southeast Asia's third highest FDI recipient last year, attracting US$10.9 billion. As private investments make a strong return, our gross domestic product (GDP) for the second quarter of this year rose 5.4 per cent, exceeding most forecasts. We are well-positioned to attract more FDIs.
What strategic role does InvestKL play in Malaysia's transformation programme?
All great countries have iconic cities that are also pillars of economic growth. China has Beijing and Shanghai, the United States has New York. The aspiration is for Kuala Lumpur to be among the world's top 20 cities in terms of economic activity and liveability by 2020. To drive the economic growth, we need significant foreign direct investment. InvestKL was established to focus on attracting Fortune 500 and Forbes 2000 global companies. We are structured to run like an entrepreneurial company and empowered to create something new and different.
What is the competitive advantage for MNCs to choose Kuala Lumpur over other cities in Asia?
We offer very strong business propositions. In addition to a strategic location within Southeast Asia, the growth nexus of Asia, the ETP provides ample investment and business opportunities in 12 sectors. We offer a multilingual talent pool, world-class infrastructure and a highly competitive cost of doing business and living.
In this globalised world, we don't really see the need for investors to choose one city over another. The concept of having dual regional headquarters is feasible. Hong Kong gives the advantage of easy access to China, while Kuala Lumpur opens up the burgeoning Southeast Asia market - Indonesia, Vietnam and Myanmar, to name a few. Of course, the cost of doing business and living in Kuala Lumpur is much lower than in Hong Kong.
How do you attract these MNCs?
We have attracted six MNCs: IBM, Toshiba, Schlumberger, ServiceSource, AECOM and Vale. These companies are looking at growth. They are asking: how can we use Kuala Lumpur to provide better returns to shareholders? They look at the cost structure, the ease of doing business and whether they can be profitable. We offer a complete package - tax incentives, infrastructure, talent pool and personalised services - everything at a highly competitive cost.
What is equally important is that we look at the multinationals as partners. We work closely with them to understand their business and growth plans. Our philosophy is, "if you are successful, we are successful". We are there for them at any stage of their investment process, and they appreciate the added value that we bring to the table.
In what ways is Malaysia equipping the talent pool to meet the present and future demands of the MNCs?
We have various initiatives in place to address both short-term and long-term requirements. We have TalentCorp that is optimising local talent, attracting global talent and building networks of top talent. Next, under the Human Capital Development structural policy reform, we have training and upskilling programmes to ensure that graduates are industry ready. There is also a comprehensive programme to build a workforce of technical and vocational practitioners. At the same time, the government is reviewing the education system, with the new education blueprint to be announced soon.
How do you see Kuala Lumpur in the next three to five years?
A major economic powerhouse in the region. Economically, Kuala Lumpur will be much more dynamic as there will be more global MNCs in the city. Liveability would have improved as there are many initiatives already in place to transform the city. There will be more talent in the city - both local and foreign - as we are able to offer better jobs, higher salaries and a better standard of living. In short, GKL will be an even better place to grow your business, to live and to raise your children.
What is your key message to foreign investors looking into this region?
Kuala Lumpur is open for business. Come and explore. Grow in Asia from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.