BANGKOK -- Thailand must overhaul the education system, which will take up to 20 years, before the country can harvest the full benefits of its Eastern Economic Corridor (EEC) investment zone, according to John D. Kasarda, chief adviser to the EEC's "aerotropolis" project.
The aerotropolis, to be developed within the EEC, is intended to be an "airport smart-city," accommodating high-tech industries to produce high-value products and export them worldwide with seamless transport connectivity.
"This model could start playing a major role in supporting Thai exports and the Thai economy by the next five years from now on, when the construction of major infrastructure projects completes," Kasarda told the Nikkei Asian Review.
Kasarda, who is also the adviser to China's Zhengzhou Airport Economy Zone and helped developed several aerotropolis cities in Europe and Asia, said the aerotropolis is a city that has an airport as its center to help deliver products and people from the EEC to the world. Industrial facilities and financial institutions would be located within a 10-20km radius of the airport. All supply chains and logistics will be supported by rail systems and deep-sea ports.
But, he pointed out, "the human resource is the biggest challenge."
"There were questions from several investors from Japan and China, [asking] 'What about the workforce?' and 'Can the labor force meets the needs of my business?' And education cannot be developed overnight," he added.
Kasarda said that without a higher level of education among workers, high-tech industries are less likely to gather in the area, and the EEC would therefore not be able to maximize the advantages of developing an aerotropolis.
To benefit the EEC project in the long term, Kasarda said Thailand needed to cooperate with leading educational institutions, both local and international, and set up a smart educational city in the EEC to produce a skilled workforce to meet the demands of industry.
Recently, the EEC Office signed a memorandum of understanding with Pearson Education for a Framework for Human Resource Development Collaboration. The project aims to transfer the expertise of Pearson, the U.K.-based education company, to develop the Thai workforce to meet the demands of so-called S-Curve industries -- existing industrial sectors, which can be developed by adding value through advanced technologies to start rising again, like the shape of an "S." This process is expected to grow rapidly within the next five years.
According to Thailand's EEC Office, the aerotropolis will cover 1,040 hectares, stretching from Rayong to Chonburi. The 250-billion-baht project ($ 7.5 billion) is due to be financed through public and private partnership structures, with plans to modernize the U-Tapao airport as the center of the aerotropolis.
During the first five years, the S-Curve industries will start functioning and pushing the Thai economy forward in the short-term, said Kasarda.
The first five S-Curve industries that are expected to start working in the first phase of the EEC are: the next-generation automotive industry (electronic vehicles), intelligent electronics, advanced agriculture and biotechnology, food processing, and tourism.