Several weeks ago, I visited Thailand to see many of the impressive infrastructure projects under way in that country (see our story here). 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), among other achievements.
One of the leading backers of VISTEC is PTT Group, a large Thai energy company. Thailand is rich in natural gas and has a thriving automotive manufacturing base, 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.