Doctoral candidate at the School of Management, Shinawatra University, delivers the paper “Industrial Estates and the Changing Economic Geography of Asia” jointly authored with myself at the ICGBE Conference 2013 (Bangkok: February 9th-10th, 2013).
Many Asian countries have passed through periods of rapid industrialization based on the transition from agriculture to manufacture as the basis of economic activities. Those who have done so have frequently identified areas of their territory bounded in space and time to be appropriate to receive privileges and incentives to draw investment from domestic and international investors. These specific areas are designated as some form of industrial estate, processing zone, special economic zone or another term and it is in these territories that the process of industrialization has taken place. They draw migrant labour from within the country, largely as a result of rural workers being encouraged to find higher income opportunities in the factories. They have also been centres for the production of externalities, whether positive or negative in nature. As a result, they have become some of the most polluted and disputed pieces of land in all of Asia. Above all, these areas have impacted on the economic geography of modernizing Asia, changing the location of comparative advantage and providing opportunities for the sharing of untraded synergies and complementarities. Although studies of industrial estates and special economic zones have been conducted, this has generally been done on an industrial basis and with respect to a single perspective or issue (e.g. pollution management, stakeholder relations or inter-firm connections). A properly authoritative view of the Asian industrial estate experience would aim to draw together the impact on not just competitive advantage, pollution and management techniques but, also, on labour rights and their contestation, the changing nature of workers’ lives as they move from the rural to the urban manufacturing sector, particularly with respect to changing gender relations and, above all, the relationship between the increasing incomes of a manufacturing class and the desire and demand for democratisation in the countries concerned. The paper concludes with an overview of likely future changes for those countries that may exit the factory age and enter the knowledge-based economy and those at much earlier stages of this trajectory, who are still entering the factory age.