WAY before Malaysia gained its independence in 1965, Penang has already been a hive of trade activity.
As early as the 5th century AD, the mainland and the island across the straits encouraged seafarers to establish a centre of proto-Malaysian civilisation in what is currently the Bujang Valley, a culture that distinctively worked on iron and trade.
During the years when the British Empire held sway over the region, the island was established as an entrepot, making it a regional hub for all goods that ply the Straits of Melaka and establishing it as a strategic stop for traders to meet and peddle their wares, which would then be re-exported.
Even the emergence of Singapore as a strategic port did not detract from the fact that the Port of Penang was still the first port-of-call to the east of the Indian subcontinent.
Penang’s earliest trading port
After the country gained independence, however, the state of the island and its outlying mainland of Seberang Perai stood at the cusp of changing political and economic landscapes.
Previously free from taxes, the port was then redesigned into a customs area, which inevitably affected the trade and as a result, impacted local businesses as well.
The sudden turn of events soon escalated into rising unemployment, with youths drifting into regions down south to find fresher pastures, be it in Kuala Lumpur, Singapore or even further afield overseas.
Until today, the resultant brain drain still poses a problem for the state, if not the country as a whole.
As the local economy took a hit from the lack of manpower, the federal government appointed a US-based company to study and propose a master plan for the state – one that would attract employment and maximise land use, while at the same time generating revenue for the state and federal government.
A new start towards prosperity
Established on 17 November 1969 under the Penang Development Corporation Enactment (1971), the Penang Development Corporation (PDC) was envisioned to uplift the standards of living within the state, by directing constructive developments for the future via sustainable, socio-economic methods.
PDC serves to meet the state’s aspirations by strategically planning the state’s growth through a grand master plan, which involved large-scale mobilisation, covering industrial, residential and commercial sectors.
Its aims included tackling the problem of unemployment, by initially reducing its impact and eventually achieving full employment with all labour resources efficiently utilised. It also paves the way to help those in low productivity occupations increase their income and productivity, by providing greater access to economic activities, while encouraging them to shift towards more productive enterprises.
Another area the PDC tackled is the disparity in income present within the different segments of the society, especially those in the agricultural sector; as well as raising the standard of living in rural areas by providing more social services such as public housing, basic infrastructural services and civic social amenities.
It also works towards fostering a thriving commercial and industrial community that involves the Malays and the indigenous people.
PDC’s objectives are not only aligned with Penang 2030, they are also aligned to the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals 2030 (SDG),
Thus, PDC’s primary objective was to elevate Penangnites’ quality and standard of living, bringing it up to par with the Klang Valley and similar successful areas, by urbanising rural areas.
It does so by planning and implementing developments throughout the state, carving out industrial parks and townships on viable tracts of undeveloped land into industrial parks and new townships while breathing new life to urban areas through redevelopment.
Onset of industrialisation in Penang
The prime mover of the development and modernisation for the state was the establishment and development of industrial parks by PDC from the early 1970s. At that point in time, its top priority was industrial promotion whilst fully appreciating the fact that the agriculture sector would continue to be the basic and fundamental sector in the economy.
As a start, the PDC pioneered the concept of the Free Trade Zones (FTZs) to encourage foreign investment in export oriented activities. In 1972, PDC established Malaysia ‘s first Free Trade Zone at Sungai Kluang in Bayan Lepas. This is now known as the Bayan Lepas Industrial Park and now houses major players of the world and have provided employment to generations of Penangites.
PDC now has a string of industrial parks under its belt and is now focused on its latest – Batu Kawan Industrial Park. By establishing these industrial parks, PDC has not only created a driving force for growth in the state for the past four decades, but has also encouraged rapid growth in the manufacturing sector.
In the early 1970s, PDC earmarked two areas to develop into new townships with complementary industrial sectors; one on the island’s south-west district called Bandar Bayan Baru and another on the central part of the mainland to be called Bandar Seberang Jaya.
Birth of Bayan Baru
Bandar Bayan Baru township transformed the largely rural district covered in paddy fields into Malaysia’s first Free Trade Zone (FTZ) in Bayan Lepas, which drew major industrial players such as Clarion (M) Sdn Bhd, National Semiconductor Electronics Sdn Bhd, Robert Bosch (M) Sdn Bhd, Hitachi, Intel and the likes.
The selling point was Penang’s history as an international trading port, which helped foster an educated, English-speaking labour force. With the abundance of jobs available via the FTZ, it wasn’t long that the residential and commercial spaces were filled and more facilities came online.
An early look at what Bayan Baru was like before it transformed into a bustling township after 1972.
The Bayan Lepas Free Industrial Zone today is one of the six industrial parks established to increase investments.
It then built landed houses and low-rise projects, public amenities like markets, mosques, schools within the township. That is linked to the FTZ and the rest of the state via infrastructures like roads and utility lines, which gave the private sector opportunities to further enhance the with more amenities.
Today Bandar Bayan Baru is a bustling township that sprawls 3,455 acres, roughly 1,400 hectares with landed and high-rise residential developments of which over 9,000 is PDC-developed, with a population of about 130,000.
It is replete with hotels, standard and upmarket commercial units, hospitals, a golf club, a world-class convention centre, shopping malls and facilities that cater to the urban needs of the inhabitants.
Seeding Seberang Jaya
Bandar Seberang Jaya was the second township to be developed by the PDC, by replicating the successes of Bandar Bayan Baru onto a specified area on the mainland.
This mirrored the opening of industrial parks in Bayan Lepas on the island and at Prai just south of the designated land. The said area was mainly used as a rubber plantation previously.
The thriving hub that is Seberang Jaya today.
Plans were then set in place to transform that into a busy modern township that spanned 1,124 acres, about 454.9 hectares with residential, commercial and educational components to form Bandar Seberang Jaya at the Central Seberang Perai District.
Today it houses 6,980 residential units developed by PDC, home to a population of about 41,000 and a plethora of businesses similar to Bandar Bayan Baru and bedecked with malls, retail outlets and small traders.
Other amenities include hotels, a multi-purpose arena, this new landmark also houses a convention centre, government and private offices and various tourist attractions.
With its proximity to the Prai Industrial Park, Bukit Minyak Industrial Park and Bukit Tengah Industrial Parks, the township provides a modern, urbanised neighbourhood that the workforce in these industrial parks can assuredly call home.
Directly linking Bandar Seberang Jaya to outlying areas and bordering states are two major highways; the North-South Expressway and the Butterworth-Kulim Expressway.
Furthermore, Penang state’s main transportation hub, Penang Sentral, enhanced its accessibility even more when it opened in November last year.
Conceptualising Bandar Cassia
While Bandar Bayan Baru and Bandar Seberang Jaya were developed as sister townships in the early 1970s, there was a further need to urbanise the large tracts of land available on the mainland.
PDC embarked on its third township development in 1993 with the planning of Bandar Cassia in Batu Kawan, at the Southern Seberang Perai District.
Bandar Cassia, Batu Kawan, PDC’s third township development spans 6,326 acres (2,560 hectares) of mainly oil palm plantation and mangrove. The population, when the land was acquired by PDC, were made up of cattle rearers and plantation workers.
Bandar Cassia is today part of PDC’s plan to develop a Southern Corridor.
Part of the Southern Corridor at Batu Kawan include new developments, such as Ikea (left frame) and the Design Village Outlet Mall, which draw large crowds to the area daily.
As the second Penang Bridge was constructed linking the island to Bandar Cassia, Batu Kawan, the connectivity will put Bandar Cassia at the crossroads between the mainland and the island.
The link will prove to be an essential part to galvanise the whole township as there are a whole range of affordable housing from PDC, complemented by the likes of Eco World and Aspen, an industrial park with names such as Honda, Hotayi, PKT Logistics, retail outlets with Design Village and Ikea, courtesy of private sectors.
Taking cue from the state government’s aspirations for a cleaner, greener Penang, Bandar Cassia was conceptualised as an eco-city, with green lungs and community-based living environment plus en. PDC also has plans to fibredise the township, making it a smart eco-city.
Methods such fibredisation and the development of certified and award-winning products such as certified green buildings.
This sparkling new township, planned with over a wide range of residential units to cater to a projected population of 250,000 people, is also poised to be the choice location for players in the education, health, property and industrial sector with its strategic location in the Northern Region. This augurs well for PDC’s development concept of “Live, Learn, Work and Play.”
Reimagining George Town
Another of PDC’s focus was to upgrade and facelift the city centre of George Town. Founded in 1824 as the capital for the Straits Settlements, by the late 1960s much of the city centre was characterised by derelict shop houses from the pre-War era.
As the land belonged to the city council and the state government, PDC was given the onus of giving the town an urban facelift in 1973 and culminated in the iconic building at the heart of the city centre, Komtar.
This “city within a city” stretched 11 hectares that housed both civic and commercial activities. While the tower was completed in 1986, the overall development was divided into five phases and is still ongoing.
The towering presence of the Komtar tower’ has become an icon for the Penang state.
Today, the developments include the government office enclave, the surrounding businesses, restaurants, a hotel, a mall, shopping complexes, and even enticing tourist attractions such as the The GravityZ, the Rainbow Skywalk and Observatory Deck, the Jurassic Research Centre; the Tech Dome, the 7D Discovery Motion Theater, the Ocean Explorer and the Magic Mirror Maze.
PDC’s latest jewel in the crown in its development of Komtar is the one at Phase 5 which is the Sia Boey Urban Archeological Park, the first in Malaysia. This is one of the many PDC contributions to the Penang state and its people.
Penang chief minister Chow Kon Yeow (fourth from left) and other leaders inspecting Malaysia's first Urban Archeological Park at Sia Boey site during the opening ceremony of Sia Boey Urban Park in George Town, Penang Pic by: ZHAFARAN NASIB/The Star/ 9 November 2019.
As PDC celebrates its Golden Jubilee this year, the corporation reaffirms that its objectives and aims remain intact. In fact, Penangites have much to look forward to bigger, bolder and far-reaching plans that will seek to establish newer developments and revive its existing ones.
Of the many roles and responsibilities the PDC has assumed for the state, it was one as the primary socio-economic developer that has redrawn the trajectory Penang was heading into since its free port status was eroded.
PDC does not walk alone in its plans for Penang. Its main stakeholder is the Penang State Government and its partners are all other government agencies and the private sector.
It works hand in hand with all parties for a win-win-win-win scenario for PDC, the government, the private sector and the people of Penang. Among its steadfast partners is first and foremost the State Government of Penang.
PDC’s focus on its aims mentioned earlier, which were outlined in 1969, remains intact for the people of Penang and is still relevant to realise and achieve the targets of the Sustainable Development Goals 2030, testament that PDC’s planning was futuristic from the onset of its establishment.