SEVERAL WEEKS AGO, I VISITED THAILAND TO SEE MANY OF
the impressive infrastructure projects under way in that country (see
our story on p. 48). The government there plans to invest a whopping
US$53.4 billion over the next five years on infrastructure improvements,
including roads, rail track, ports, and air facilities. The goal is to establish
Thailand as the site of choice for manufacturing and logistics operations
in Southeast Asia.
Such a commitment to growth is refreshing, especially considering
the political squabbles we have here at home over funding repairs to our
deteriorating infrastructure, let alone funding new projects.
What’s also encouraging is that Thailand is investing
not only in concrete and steel, but also in research,
innovation, and the training of its next generation of
engineers and business leaders.
As part of its “Thailand 4.0” program, the country
is establishing Cities of Innovation, which are research
clusters containing educational facilities and laboratories. What is also impressive is that these are joint
ventures between government and industry, with 11
different government agencies, 20 industries, and 24
academic institutions all working together.
One of the sites I visited was the Vidyasirimedhi
Institute of Science (VISTEC). Located in gleaming
modern buildings in what was once a forested section
of Rayong Province’s Wang Chan Valley (elephants
are known to wander onto the grounds to forage for bananas), this
research center has an almost Los Alamos feel, in that its isolation provides an atmosphere for concentrated innovation. Although it’s just
three years old, VISTEC has already produced significant advancements
in battery technology, including batteries that can recharge themselves.
One of the leading backers of VISTEC is PTT Group, a large Thai
energy company. Thailand is rich in natural gas, yet PTT recognizes that
the age of fossil fuels is nearing its end. It wants to be part of discovering
new energy sources to assure a collective future.
The center is also investing in the next generation of leaders. The complex includes a technical high school for the nation’s best and brightest
science students. Classes are taught only in English, in recognition of the
international nature of the jobs these students will someday assume. The
emphasis there is not only on technical knowledge but also on developing problem-solving and team-building skills.
Such a cooperative approach to spurring innovation and assuring a
future is both encouraging and refreshing. More than that, it’s something
our own government agencies and industry leaders should emulate.
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