The Singapore Economic Development Board (EDB) was formed in 1961 to address the challenges of attracting foreign investors even though it was undergoing much economic uncertainty at the time.
As a solution to massive unemployment in the 1960s, EDB aided in the establishment of the labour-intensive Jurong Industrial Estate. From a swamp along the west coast of Singapore, Jurong was transformed into Singapore’s first industrial estate to initiate the country’s industrialisation programme with factories producing garments, textiles, toys, wood products and hair wigs.
To develop export-oriented industries, EDB opened its first overseas centres in Hong Kong and New York to attract foreign investors.
With the advancement of industrial development, EDB established Singapore as a quick operations start-up location. Factories were built in advance of demand with a highly skilled workforce readily available. In line with this expansion, more EDB offices were set up in Europe, USA and Asia.
Products manufactured became more sophisticated, which led to product diversification and new investments in electronics. Within six months, EDB secured a S$6 million deal with Texas Instruments to manufacture semiconductors and integrated circuits. This major investment marked the start of Singapore’s electronics industry.
Between 1971 and 1976, new EDB overseas centres opened in Zurich, Paris, Osaka and Houston.
During the world recession in 1975, EDB pushed for more industrial projects and manufacturing became the largest sector in the economy, surpassing trade.
Moving into knowledge-intensive activities such as R&D and computer software services, EDB co-established institutions of technology with Japan, Germany and France that trained Singaporeans for specialised jobs in the high-technology fields of electronics and engineering. Additionally, EDB also administered the Skills Development Fund to encourage proper manpower training programmes.
In order to promote Singapore as a Total Business Centre, EDB attracted international service corporations in the financial, educational, lifestyle, medical, IT and software sectors. The manufacturing of personal computers, printed circuit boards, and disc drives were identified as important sunrise industries, and EDB worked to attract companies in these areas. As a result, Singapore’s – and South East Asia’s - first silicon wafer manufacture plant opened in the early 1980s.
The promotion of local enterprises also became increasingly important. As such, EDB set up the Small Enterprise Bureau in 1986 and shaped a range of assistance schemes to help small local enterprises grow.
In 1988, the EDB's Strategic Business Unit for Biotechnology was established for biotech promotion.
Even as companies intensify their use of technology to move up the value chain, manufacturing remained important in Singapore’s economic development. EDB strengthened its focus on key industries, namely chemicals, electronics and engineering. Consequently, Singapore also began to develop a biomedical science industry that included the pharmaceutical, biotechnology and medical technology sectors.
In an effort towards building up the local creative industry, EDB’s Creative Services Strategic Business Unit was set up in 1990, with a study of 18 task forces covering units in the creative industry that includes film, music, arts, design and media.
Recognising China’s importance in the near future, EDB also set up the “China Focus” Special Business Unit in 1990, which specialised in building investor relations with the Republic.
EDB Investments (EDBI) was established in 1991 as EDB’S independent equity investment arm, to grow and catalyse new strategic pillars and strengthen existing engines of Singapore’s economy.
Recognising the importance of innovative entrepreneurship, EDB launched the Start-up EnterprisE Development Scheme (SEEDS) in 2001 (renamed SPRING SEEDS in 2007). A co-financing scheme whereby the government matches up to a dollar for every dollar raised up to a maximum of S$300,000 per company, it has also played a critical role in triggering private sector engagement and investment. Additionally, EDB’s Business Angel Scheme (BAS) was initiated in 2005 to further stimulate entrepreneurship and techno-preneurship through business angels’ investment and funding.
In view of the wealth of investment opportunities in China, India and the Middle East, EDB set up numerous centres within the region. It set up its Shanghai office in 2002, followed by the Beijing office in 2004 and a third office in Guangzhou in 2006. To enhance economic relations with Indian companies, the Mumbai office was set up in 2004.
EDB also focused its efforts towards developing Singapore’s interactive and digital media (IDM) industry. In 2004, the agency successfully pitched to LucasFilm, a production company founded by George Lucas, the creator of the Star Wars franchise. Since then, LucasFilm Singapore has set up multiple divisions of animation and visual effects studios in Singapore.
Advancing the development of the energy industry of Singapore, the Energy Innovation Programme Office (EIPO) was set up in 2007 under the leadership of EDB and the Energy Market Authority (EMA). Since then, initiatives such as the establishment of public sector R&D centres and talent development programmes have been launched. In the same year, EDB also led the establishment of the Clean Energy Programme Office (CEPO), set up to implement strategies for developing Singapore’s clean energy industry.
In recent years, to expand its R&D activities, EDB has attracted MNCs such as Hewlett-Packard (HP), Johnson & Johnson, Procter & Gamble, and Hyflux to set up innovation and leadership development centres in Singapore.
In 2011, EDB celebrated its 50th anniversary.