The emergence of Singapore as the heart of Asia’s economy has come with many challenges. From its days as a small and underdeveloped nation, Singapore has emerged from the tumultuous financial, social and political changes over the years to transform into the first-world metropolis that it is today.


As a newly independent country in 1965 with no natural resources, Singapore as an infant nation faced much uncertainty. Unemployment was one of the key issues that needed to be resolved quickly in order to get the wheels of the Singapore economy moving.

Singapore's Economic History in 1960s

With a GNP per capita of less than US$320, Singapore was a third-world nation with poor infrastructure and limited capital. Low-end commerce was the mainstay of the economy and the handful of industries that existed produced only for domestic consumption, leaving no room for direct foreign investment.

To create job opportunities following the massive unemployment and labour unrest, an environment conducive to industrial development had to be formed, thus leading to the birth of the Jurong Industrial Estate – the first of many such estates on the island.

It was during this exciting period of growth that the Singapore Economic Development Board (EDB) was established with a budget of $100 million to take on the challenge of convincing foreign investors that the country was a good place for business.

These two developments marked the start of Singapore’s industrialisation programme that began with factories producing garments, textiles, toys, wood products and hair wigs. Along with these labour-intensive industries were capital and technology-intensive projects from companies such as Shell Eastern Petroleum and the National Iron and Steel Mills.

The success of this programme over time meant new issues had to be tackled, namely the lack of raw resources that once came from Malaysia and rapidly growing local demand. Singapore’s solution then was to develop its export-oriented industries, as EDB opened its first overseas centres in Hong Kong and New York to be better placed to woo foreign investors.


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