HO CHI MINH CITY: Upon approaching the two Vietnam Singapore Industrial Parks (VSIPs) in Binh Duong province, one can immediately see why the southern Vietnamese province values them so highly as major drivers of economic growth.
The carparks outside the factories are crammed with workers' motorcycles, while residential and commercial developments have sprung up around the industrial parks, located about a half-hour drive north of Ho Chi Minh City.
Sprawling across 2,545ha, the two VSIPs are home to 418 companies - mostly manufacturers of products ranging from cosmetics to electronics - including familiar names like Yakult and P&G, and employ more than 100,000 of the province's 1.7 million people.
Built by joint ventures led by Singapore's Sembcorp Development and Vietnamese state enterprise Becamex IDC Corporation, the parks reflect the high levels of investment that the Republic has poured into Vietnam.
Last year, Singapore was Binh Duong's third-largest foreign investor, with cumulative investments hitting US$1.8 billion (S$2.3 billion) - or 14 per cent of the US$13 billion the province has attracted - in February.
Yesterday, President Tony Tan Keng Yam, who is on a five-day state visit to Vietnam, toured both VSIPs and dropped in on Mapletree Business City, an industrial and business park within VSIP II.
At a meeting with Binh Duong's top leaders, party secretary Mai The Trung and People's Committee chairman Le Thanh Cung, Dr Tan said he was amazed by the progress made at VSIP I, which he last visited 16 years ago as deputy prime minister and defence minister.
'For us in particular, Binh Duong province is particularly important because it was here where we established the first Vietnam Singapore Industrial Park,' he said. 'I think these industrial parks have shown to be very strong symbols of the growth of the cooperation between Vietnam and Singapore for mutual benefits.'
The first VSIP was launched in 1996 by the prime ministers of Vietnam and Singapore as a flagship government-to- government project.
Since then, three more parks have been built in north and south Vietnam. On Monday, an investment licence was awarded for a fifth VSIP - to be built in central Vietnam - at a ceremony witnessed by Dr Tan.
Sembcorp executive chairman Low Sin Leng said the parks help the local governments to develop the economy, attract investors and create jobs.
'This also helps the industries grow,' she said. 'When many foreign companies come in, they bring workers and their families, spinning off many new jobs and more investments in the service and food and beverage industries. It becomes an engine to drive the economy.'
Dr Tan, who ends his state visit and returns to Singapore today, also met former Vietnam president Nguyen Minh Triet, who had approved the maiden VSIP.
Last night, he met some 300 Singaporeans living and working in Ho Chi Minh City. There are about 3,000 Singaporeans here, many of them working in the 500 Singaporean enterprises across the city.
Addressing them in a speech, Dr Tan said they played an important role in deepening ties between the two countries, and also urged them not to forget their roots and to remain connected to Singapore.
One of them, Mr Benjamin Yap, president of the Singapore Business Group, said he has seen Ho Chi Minh City change drastically in his six years here.
The 45-year-old, who has a son, said a trip to the clinic for treatment for flu could cost US$150 back then. 'It was very rare to find English-speaking doctors, so they charged you a lot,' he said.
The prices have since dropped by half, he said, adding, 'Things are better now.'
He said he will return to Singapore in five to 10 years.
'But what keep me here are the opportunities. It's like growing up in Singapore all over again.'