A few years ago, turning Hong Kong into a centre of technology creation or adaptation would have seemed to many like an unrealistic dream. Now, however, through the combined efforts of the Hong Kong Science and Technology Parks Corp (HKSTPC), the government and a few local success stories as many as 25,000 new jobs in the information technology (IT) industry could be created before 2011. Tam Chung-ding, chief executive of HKSTPC, said the engine for driving technology ventures was being put into place and already showed positive signs of creating jobs. There are about 1,000 information technology and technology professionals working at the Science and Technology Park. Mr Tam said this number was set to grow to 2,500 over the next year as the HKSTPC continued its efforts to attract suitable foreign companies to Hong Kong and stepped up its support for local IT and technology-focused enterprises. At the end of last year, the HKSTPC opened its Innovation Centre in the science park, which has been designed to support small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) developing semiconductors and integrated circuits (ICs). So far, 21 IC firms are operating in the building and their number is set to rise to more than 100 in the next two years. Mr Tam said the enormous global demand for ICs, the market for which last year was worth US$173 billion, was a key area that Hong Kong could exploit. About 38 per cent of IC units produced are used in manufacturing processes on the mainland. 'We know the customers. Many of the manufacturers come from Hong Kong and we are ideally located to form lasting relationships. This is only the beginning and, as it expands, it would be the source of many new jobs. We fully expect to see employment for 25,000 IT and technology professionals working in the science park by 2011,' Mr Tam said. The HKSTPC, the government, industry leaders and education providers have chosen four key technology clusters that complement Hong Kong's existing strengths. These are electronics, IT telecommunications, precision engineering and biotechnology. He said investment in high-technology industries was also helping build infrastructure for future generations. 'We have to create something new that matches the economic status that Hong Kong has today,' Mr Tam said. The science park's goal is to apply science and technology to enhance innovation capabilities, to strengthen the competitiveness of industry, and create knowledge-based, high value-added industries. With its world-class infrastructure and support services, the park provides 'start-to-end-function' facilities for product research and development, incubation and production activities. 'Hong Kong has always been able to build on its economic strengths and develop its own niches in business,' Mr Tam said. The science park is helping to consolidate the formation of the four clusters and develop world-class hi-tech enterprises to compete and flourish in the global new economy. Although the government has traditionally adhered to laissez-faire policies, it has become more proactive in efforts to promote the IT and technology sectors. Companies such as Solomon Systech, a semiconductor designer and manufacturer, and science park tenant, is providing inspiration and the realisation that Hong Kong is a viable place to operate a hi-tech business. In April, Solomon Systech, a 100 per cent Hong Kong-owned company, which did not exist four years ago, raised US$600 million through its initial public offering. Acacia, another science park tenant, also recently sold its home-grown technology to a multinational for a multimillion-dollar profit. 'While we are still in the early stages, our aim is to quickly develop a knowledge-based society to complement the service and financial sectors that are already well-developed in Hong Kong. We have one of the strongest linkage industries in Asia, providing timely supplies and services, and ensuring that innovators can quickly establish the financial and business relationships they need to thrive and grow,' Mr Tam said. Humphrey Leung, president and managing director of Solomon Systech, said that in recent years the Hong Kong government had set up a fund for universities, a joint research and development funding mechanism with China, and had made investments in hi-tech business parks. However, this was still a long way from adopting a comprehensive industrial policy for hi-tech industries. The government has set aside $5 billion under the Innovation and Technology Fund to support research and development (R&D) activities, including biotech-related projects conducted by local universities and start-up companies. These projects range from drug-release technology to innovative gene-chip technology. Mr Leung said that as part of this strategy, the government should make it easier for private companies to receive subsidies and grants. 'It would be helpful if the government set up a large-scale R&D centre that will cultivate new technologies, co-ordinate with smaller R&D labs and draw in overseas investment,' Mr Leung said. One of Hong Kong's biggest problems is that many Asian competitors are working closely with their governments and are far ahead in the production of semiconductors, disk drives and computer hardware. Mr Leung said if the right approach was taken, Hong Kong was well-placed to take advantage of 'enabling' technology such as semiconductors and biotechnology. 'The China market offers huge possibilities for further developing Hong Kong's hi-tech industries because it's so big. Because of the growing interest in the mainland's hi-tech telecommunications markets, Hong Kong-based companies are in an excellent position to recruit and retain high-calibre talent from the local market,' Mr Leung said. He said Hong Kong produced a significant number of locally educated graduates with the skills to work in the technology industry. The problem was that local graduates lacked the opportunity to interact with foreign-trained engineers and utilise that information acquired from abroad. Many technology graduates end up working for service companies. 'The gap in technology between Hong Kong and some foreign nations is also severe, as there are few technology companies that could provide these locally trained engineers with practical training. 'Without this practical training and work experience, these recent graduates are unable to create new products or businesses,' Mr Leung said. Since its establishment in 1999, Solomon Systech has become a major display IC supplier to the global mobile phone and hand-held communication devices market. Solomon, which sells organic light-emitting diode drives worldwide, recently strengthened its distribution network by opening additional channels in the United States, Europe and Southeast Asia. Fully committed to R&D last year, the company recorded more than 70 new design awards for mobile phones, MP3 players, personal digital assistants and other display applications.