Situated in the heart of Bayan Lepas, Penang’s premier state development agency, Penang Development Corporation (PDC) stands tall, its legacy untainted by the passing of time. Established back in 1969 by the late Tun Dr Lim Chong Eu, the second Chief Minister of Penang, the esteemed organisation celebrated its 50th anniversary last year.
Established as part of Tun Dr Lim Chong Eu’s rural urbanisation and industrialisation policy, PDC was intended to play a central role in the development of Penang during a time of high unemployment rates. The organisation serves the aspirations of the state in spearheading socio-economic growth, creating employment and improving quality of life for the people of Penang.
International Business Review speaks to the man who has been with the corporation for four decades and who has witnessed PDC in all its glory – the seventh General Manager of PDC, Datuk Mohd Bazid Haji Abd Kahar.
The Backbone of Penang
Datuk Mohd Bazid started his career in PDC as a technician back in 1979. Having spent forty years with the organisation, he has served under four Chief Ministers, and was appointed as PDC’s General Manager in 2019.
It is evident that Datuk Bazid holds great pride in all PDC had achieved over the years. “When we were established”, Datuk Bazid notes, “we broke barriers and we did the unthought of at a time many considered to be a down time for Penang. We broke new frontiers.”
Losing its free port status in 1967 immensely hurt Penang’s economy, with per capita income dipping by 12 percent, while the unemployment surged to high as 16 percent.
PDC was part of the revitalisation masterplan to bring Penang back to its former glory, and it was made to shoulder the responsibility to spearhead growth in the state to make Penang “a better place for all”.
PDC started the planning and creation of two townships for the state, transforming the rural areas of Penang into thriving urban nodes. The townships were the Bandar Bayan Baru and Bandar Seberang Jaya. The strategic aim of these township developments was to provide affordable housing for Penangites as well as to reduce the rural and urban gap.
A third township is also in the pipeline, with PDC actively developing 6,000 acres of oil palm plantation land into a smart eco-city in Bandar Cassia, Batu Kawan in Seberang Prai.
A pioneer in many ways, the nation’s first Free Trade Zones, more commonly known now as Industrial Parks, were first established in Penang by PDC. PDC was tasked with the construction of the Free Trade Zones to encourage foreign investments into the country. As a result, the Bayan Lepas Industrial Park and Seberang Jaya Industrial Park were opened in 1975 and 1976 respectively.
Datuk Mohd Bazid also reveals that PDC was involved in the first electronics plant to start operations in Bayan Lepas Free Trade Zone – Penang Electronics (M) Sdn Bhd. It served as a bold marketing strategy to portray Penang as the preferred investment destination.
Currently, there are eight industrial parks in Penang covering 7,000 acres of land and home to renowned multinational companies such as Intel, AMD, Hewlett-Packard, Clarion, National Semiconductor (Fairchild), Osram and Robert Bosch.
These industrial parks have created over 300 thousand direct employment for the state’s 1.6 million population. “To me, that is the greatest achievements of PDC in creating the economy for Penang and to provide employment to the people,” Datuk Bazid reveals.
Another notable achievement of PDC is the planning and development of Penang’s inner city. The first phase is the development of the iconic building, KOMTAR, which was described by Datuk Bazid as the single most ambitious urban renewal project by PDC. The 65-storey tower was completed in 1986 and until today, houses the Penang state government administrative bodies.
PDC also spearheaded the reclamation project for the state involving 1,111 acres of land. Starting from the first Penang Bridge, the reclaimed land has transformed into a manufacturing, commercial and residential hub. According to Datuk Bazid, without the reclamation project, Bayan Lepas would have remained an agrarian economy.
All these concerted efforts led to positive spillover effects to the state’s economy. Penang’s population grew from 776 thousand in 1970s to 1.77 million in 2019. Unemployment rate decreased from 14.5 percent in the 1970s to 2.2 percent in 2018. Furthermore, the state’s GDP growth rate has consistently outstripped the national average.
In mentioning the triumphs of PDC, Datuk Bazid made sure to give credit where it is due: “It is through the vision of Tun Dr Lim Chong Eu, the hard work of successive Chief Ministers and our previous General Managers that PDC is where it is today.”
The Premier State Development Agency
For five decades, PDC has contributed to the state by carrying out some notable infrastructure projects. For instance, PDC financed the entire construction of the Penang State Stadium in Batu Kawan on PDC-owned land. The stadium was completed in year 2000 with total costs of RM104 million.
It is worth noting that from 1970 until now, PDC has spent a total of over RM1 billion for the state, according to Datuk Bazid. In fact, the stretch of road from Penang Bridge 1 until Penang Bridge 2 was also built by PDC at their own costs, which was later handed over to the state. This was also the case for some public facilities like mosques and libraries. “Our existence in Penang is also to assist the state. That is one of our duties,” Datuk Bazid commits.
Leading Aspirations of the State
In August 2018, YAB Tuan Chow Kon Yeow, Chief Minister of Penang launched the Penang 2030 vision – a blueprint to involve various stakeholders in a collective effort to bring Penang towards greater heights.
The Penang 2030 vision outlines 16 strategic initiatives within four main themes aimed at spurring investments, accelerating growth and uplifting socio-economic status of Penangites.
Datuk Bazid notes that, “PDC’s plans and strategies of its core activities fit into every single one of those thrusts and we will ensure that the Penang 2030 vision is realised.”
In line with Penang 2030 aspirations, PDC has formulated a 5-year Strategic Plan (2019-2023) which outlines short, medium and long-term strategies to enhance PDC’s role and revenue base to improve the well-being of people of Penang within PDC’s development areas, and beyond.
The Strategic Plan is driven by three main thrusts – the first is creation of new growth areas. As aforementioned, PDC is actively promoting the development of a third township in Bandar Cassia, Batu Kawan. A comprehensive masterplan to incorporate areas south and east of Bandar Cassia is currently being drawn up to create new growth areas for Penang’s economy to thrive.
Furthermore, PDC has built its own portfolio of assets all over Penang over five decades. With the potential that these assets hold, naturally value enhancement of assets has been identified as the second thrust of the Strategic Plan.
As such, PDC is actively undergoing renovations for dilapidated assets that require a facelift in order to enhance the value of those assets. One of the ways is by buying back some of these assets, namely residential and redeveloping them into new housing equipped with modern facilities.
Datuk Bazid cited the example of the urban regeneration project for Mahsuri flats in Bayan Baru which were developed in the 80s. Consisting of 300 units, 1,150 new units consisting of low medium-cost units and affordable housing units of 700 to 805 sq ft will be built in the same location.
The house-buyers will be required to resell their units to PDC and in return, will be provided with a new apartment worth RM500 thousand to RM600 thousand. The success of this pilot project will get the ball rolling for other redevelopment projects.
PDC is also keeping its ears on the ground in order to meet business demands. For instance, the organisation has embarked on a build and lease programme to cater for asset light business models, to attract strategic investors to Penang. PDC is also taking the lead in promoting Penang as a Global Business Services (GBS) hub. As a result, GBS@Mayang was officially launched in December 2018.
Datuk Bazid also reveals that PDC has identified 740 acres of land in Paya Terubong as having development potential. However, he acknowledges that due to the hilly terrain, PDC would have to be creative in order to enhance the business value of the land while also optimising its natural value.
PDC is also the initiator of state initiatives. Since 2008, PDC has been entrusted to carry out affordable housing schemes on behalf of the state. Through heavy involvement in the state’s initiatives, Datuk Bazid notes that PDC is playing its role in providing quality homes for the people of Penang.
By virtue of its strong economic contributions to the country through a highly developed infrastructure and robust business settings, Penang has also been identified as a hub for certain Key Economic Growth Areas (KEGAs) such as logistics, health tourism, high technology industries and heritage tourism.
According to Datuk Bazid, PDC will continue to develop structured and organised industrial parks for logistics and high-technology industries. By working closely with its strategic partners such as Invest Penang, PDC strives to meet the demands of investors in key sectors, in accordance to the evolving global trade environments.
Traditionally, the modus operandi for PDC is to sell physical lands to investors. However, scarcity of land proves to be an issue that the organisation will have to address. “Over the years, PDC has been able to sustain, but for how long?” Datuk Bazid states.
As a response, PDC is looking into industries which do not require large tracts of land. Following the success of GBS@Mayang, GBS@Mahsuri is scheduled to complete in April.
Furthermore, as part of the effort to maximise the value of PDC-owned assets, the organisation is also exploring Real Estate Investment Trusts (REITs) as new means to generate income to fund its sustainable development plans.
Datuk Bazid notes that PDC will move beyond selling physical land and will continue to have a share in the development, as partners in progress.
PDC is also looking to attract health tourism to Bandar Cassia, Batu Kawan. Datuk Bazid revealed plans to create a medical hub in the area which will consist of public hospitals as well as specialised hospitals focusing on heart and cancer. “If this is all successful, it will be the first medical hub of its kind in Malaysia,” Datuk Bazid remarks.
Currently, most private hospitals are situated on the island. With multinationals like Haemonetics Malaysia Sdn Bhd and Boston Scientific Sdn Bhd already located at Bandar Cassia Industrial Park, the plan to establish a medical hub in Bandar Cassia will create a cohesive environment for medical tourism to thrive.
In order to fulfil its role within the Penang 2030 and SPV 2030, Datuk Bazid notes that it is imperative that PDC receives the support of the state and federal governments. An environment that fosters enabling processes and procedures will create a more conducive business ecosystem.
Leaving a Legacy
“Being long in PDC, I want to be sure that once I leave, this organisation is on the right track,” he remarks.
When Datuk Bazid was appointed as General Manager, he assumed the role with a promise to bring PDC back to its glory days. In order to achieve that, Datuk Bazid needed a new business plan through an inclusive bottom-up management approach. In fact, the organisation witnessed streamlining and reorganisation of its divisional roles and functions to ensure efficiency.
Ultimately, Datuk Bazid has two objectives. The first is to achieve the 5-Year Strategic Plan, and the second, is to transform the culture within the organisation. Targets can only be achieved with a committed, creative and innovative workforce, driven by teamwork.
Cultivating a tight-knit organisation is important for Datuk Bazid. During the tour to PDC headquarters, he revealed that every day, the lobby and even the cafeteria are transformed to accommodate sports activities between staff, such as table tennis, carom and even netball, after working hours.
PDC shoulders an enormous responsibility, and ensuring that the organisation lives up to expectations will not be easy. However, Datuk Bazid states that anything is possible. “In order to achieve all the things I have mentioned, I only need one – a good and reliable team”
Datuk Bazid also shared his wish to increase visibility for the organisation to all relevant stakeholders, nationwide and also internationally. Participating in the Expo 2020 Dubai is one of the steps being taken. “That is our vision. It is not easy, but that is what we are moving towards,” he states.
By instilling the right culture into the organisation, Datuk Bazid hopes for PDC to be respected, known, successful and financially stable in order for the organisation to be better equipped to assist the state.
It is Datuk Bazid’s fervent hope that PDC will continue to prosper and remain relevant so that it continues to play a pivotal role as catalyst of growth for the state for years to come. As far as he is concerned, “Penang has always been ever ready to change for the better and it will continue to do so. PDC will be at the forefront of these changes”.