Penang steps up digital push

TURNING George Town’s heritage enclave into a hub for digital economy and gazetting Penang’s Middle Bank into a marine sanctuary have become among the latest focus of Penang2030, a vision developed by Chief Minister Chow Kon Yeow shortly after he took office in 2018.

In the second phase of the vision’s implementation -- dubbed Accelerating Penang2030 -- plans for attracting digital tech houses to operate out of the pre-war buildings of the Unesco World Heritage Site will be given prime focus.

The Creative Digital District (CDD) will have China Street Ghaut as its nucleus, where Penang Science Cluster is housed in Wisma Yeap Chor Ee.

“Plans are under way to identify new spaces and buildings that can be repurposed to meet the needs of businesses of the future.

“Effort will be put into providing amenities and supporting services,” according to the plan revealed by Chow yesterday.

Chow said this digital enclave, sitting within the city’s historic urban core, will see digital start-ups, universities and creative houses including those involved in the arts making their home there.

“It will be a city campus and a test bed for innovative, digital technologies, especially those involving in 5G network capabilities.

“It will be the hub for creative industries and start-ups, and a destination for lifestyle, culture, arts and learning,” Chow said in a press conference at Penang Institute in Brown Road.

CDD will see groups of software engineers working within pre-war houses to develop artificial intelligence, internet of things, data analytics, automation, game development and mobile apps.

Chow also invited Penangites to visit for an in-depth look into this vision.

“It is a living document. Things can be taken out when they are no longer relevant and new elements can be added when they are needed.

“It is a medium-term strategy that will lay the foundation for Penang’s future, so that beyond 2030, Penang will have a stable footing to become a smart state,” he added.

Chow introduced Penang2030 in 2018 as a vision to turn Penang into a “family-focused green and smart state that inspires the nation”.

Alongside this digital future, Chow revealed plans to gazette Middle Bank as a marine sanctuary.

This is a seagrass meadow between the island and the mainland, and about 800m off the coastline from Karpal Singh Drive, visible when the tide is lowest.

Chow said the initiative is termed “Middle Bank Marine Sanctuary” (MBMS) and it will cover the stretch of the sea from the seagrass meadow until Pulau Gazumbo, the nickname for an isle north of Penang Bridge.

Marine biologist Prof Datuk Dr Aileen Tan, who was present virtually at the press conference, said being the largest seagrass meadow along the Straits of Malacca, the marine biodiversity of MBMS made it vital to be gazetted as a sanctuary.

“Scientists returned to the Middle Bank after field research work was allowed and we are so happy to see that the marine biodiversity there is still so rich.

“We also have 20 years of detailed data on Middle Bank. The sandbanks shift with the sea currents. The seagrass knows how to adjust its growth.

“During the tsunami in 2004, the data shows that the powerful waves even cleaned up Middle Bank,” she said.

Another place that will be a focus for Penang2030’s strategies is Gurney Wharf, positioned as a public realm that will be Penang’s first sizeable sea-fronting park.

Besides these place-making initiatives, Accelerating Penang2030 will also focus on community-building and industry engagement initiatives.

Efforts to create a refuge for women suffering from domestic violence, the spirit of volunteerism among youths and a stronger push for waste segregation at site to enhance recycling are the focus for community building.

The state will also introduce two calls for action: #DahDigital and #DahDerma.

With the help of “digital promoters”, the state will hold workshops to help all Penangites embrace e-commerce, e-banking and e-hailing.

As for #DahDerma, registered NGOs will be in one platform to run fundraising campaigns.

Under industry engagement initiatives, Chow said the state would tie up with civil society and industry players to build Penang’s talent pool, corporate social responsibility efforts and entrepreneurship, among others.

In a separate press conference yesterday, Chow announced that three large local companies, Greatech Technology Berhad, Pentamaster Corporation Berhad and UWC Berhad were collectively taking up 35 acres (14.16ha) of land in Batu Kawan Industrial Park and investing a total of RM520mil in their expansion projects and the equipment manufacturing supply chain.

Their projects are slated to commence in the first quarter of next year, generating 1,300 new jobs.

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