Gwangju City, which used to witness population outflow to the metropolitan area for years, has regained vitality since mayor Yoon Jang-hyeon took office in July 2014. The mayor has focused on job creation in the region above anything else, and now the city is crowded with young people doing business or working in it. The following is the Business Korea’s recent interview with the mayor.
You have made a lot of efforts to create jobs and attract companies so young people can find their places in Gwangju City. Please explain about the result of your efforts.
Last year, the Gwangju City government opened the first division in South Korea, which is in charge of youth affairs. In addition, the city launched the Dream Table and the Youth Committee while conducting various surveys with regard to them. This year, a total of 21.2 billion won is scheduled to be invested in 22 projects for youth employment, which are divided into 10 existing and 22 new ones. 20 billion won has been earmarked for special guarantee for young startups, job placement centers have been opened at multiple colleges, a joint technology corporation has been established with colleges and investors and programs have been initiated to find promising future entrepreneurs.
Furthermore, the Gwangju Job One-Stop Support Center has been opened in the civil service center of the city hall while online job placement has been improved through the renewal of the official website of the municipal employment center and the development of smartphone applications targeting young job seekers. A platform from which future entrepreneurs can benefit will be housed in the Knowledge Industry Center scheduled to be opened next month. In the long term, the city will concentrate on the auto industry with Kia Motors, the energy industry with the Korea Electric Power Corporation and the culture industry with the Asia Culture Academy while continuing to make efforts for investment attraction both at home and abroad.
Its efforts so far have resulted in the attraction of 101 companies, including Dayou Winia, Sebang Industrial and LS Industrial Systems, and the creation of 5,411 jobs. In March this year, the city signed an investment agreement with Joylong Automobile. According to the agreement, the Chinese automaker is to build a plant with an annual capacity of 100,000 vehicles in the city by investing 250 billion won until 2020.
It is said that Gwangju City’s competitiveness consists in culture and human rights. What are the examples of content supporting this?
Some of the reasons why the city is mentioning culture as its competitive edge are its age-long artistic spirit, abundant cultural resources and the people’s enthusiastic interest in and passion for culture and arts. Gwangju City is home to a number of traditional artistic masterpieces and valuable cultural resources. It will continue to enrich its attractive cultural elements by working on artistic and cultural places by the utilization of such resources.
The city as the hub of human rights of South Korea has cherished the historical memories of the May 18 Democratic Uprising. Citizens of Gwangju have inherited the bloody memories of the pro-democracy movement in the form of Gwangju Spirit for democracy, human rights and peace. The city has held the World Human Rights Cities Forum on a yearly basis for the globalization of the spirit. Recently, it opened the May 18 Archives to preserve and exhibit the UNESCO Memory of the World records of the movement. Down the road, the city will have more people know about the spirit and be engaged in different international human rights activities so the spirit can make its contribution to the humanity as a whole.
Last year’s Gwangju Universiade has been praised as a highly efficient and economical event. What is the secret of it?
Gwangju Universiade 2015 is still regarded as one of the most practical and economical universiade events in history. The city saved approximately 200 billion won by adjusting the budget from 817.1 billion won to 617.2 billion won through the reduction of construction expenses, the budget sharing between the central government and the municipal one as well as the attraction of investment from the private sector.
Specifically, 65 out of the 69 stadiums were utilized through renovation, instead of the construction of new stadiums, while only the swimming, archery, tennis and multi-purpose stadiums were newly built to satisfy international standards. The city also had 20 or so rounds of negotiations with the International University Sports Federation so that foldable chairs are allowed in the volleyball, basketball and Taekwondo stadiums, temporary tents are allowed at the athletes’ waiting rooms, lounges and the like and course repetition can be allowed for race walking and half marathon, all of which contributed to construction cost reduction. Moreover, 153 podiums and 67 medal holders were shared with the Incheon Asian Games Organizing Committee to be used at the closing ceremony and Nuribi dolls replaced flowers at the awarding ceremonies. As a result, the closing ceremony cost one-third of that of the Incheon Asian Games.
You have been appointed as the head of the organizing committee of the 2019 FINA World Aquatics Championships in Gwangju. How are you preparing for it now?
We are striving to make it cost-effective, like we did at Gwangju Universiade 2015, by making use of our knowledge and wisdom obtained last year. This year, we are setting up frames and systems required for the preparation and management of the event with two billion won in government budget earmarked for the purpose. In January this year, we launched a support group of 15 officials to initiate the preparation and the organizing committee was established in May. The swimming stadium of Nambu University will be utilized as the main stadium and temporary stadiums will be built for some events.
The South Korean government selected the green car and alternative energy industries as Gwangju City’s strategic industries. What projects have been initiated in this regard?
Hyundai Motor Company began the manufacturing of the Tucson ix hydrogen fuel cell electric vehicle in 2013. At present, the Gwangju Center for Creative Economy & Innovation and six companies in the city are working together on key parts for use in hydrogen vehicles such as vehicle stacks and membranes. In addition, Kia Motors has produced five different electric vehicle models since 2011. This month, Hyundai Motor Company released the Ionic, which can cover a distance of 191 kilometers with a fully charged battery, and this model is expected to accelerate the popularization of EVs in South Korea.
The photonics industry used to be a main pillar of the region but is severely suffering from the economic recession as of late. Do you have a solution to this situation?
The photonics industry of the region grew at a fast pace in the early 2000s before witnessing a decline in sales from 2013 amid the global economic recession and supply of cheaper LED products manufactured in China. Fortunately, however, the sales regarding optical communications equipment, optical instruments and the like are on the increase nowadays and new industrial segments based on convergence are being developed in the form of optical medical devices, automotive electronic components and energy equipment. Gwangju City has invested 1.5 billion won each year for overseas marketing assistance in the German, Danish, U.S. and Latin American markets. This program, which has resulted in approximately US$38 billion in annual exports, recently has been expanded to cover Southeast Asia as well.
The Gwangju Center for Creative Economy & Innovation was launched in January 2015. Please explain about its accomplishments so far.
53 small firms and startups were incubated by the center for the past 17 months and 33 of them completed the incubation program in 2015. Those housed in the center last year recorded 3.3 billion won in sales and 6.2 billion won in investment attraction while applying for 10 patents in total. Gwangju City has raised a fund to assist in the innovation of small and medium-sized enterprises and provided 29.4 billion won for 182 firms and businesses. The 1913 Songjeong Station Market Remodeling Project has turned the market into a cultural and tourism-oriented market. More than 7,000 people are visiting it on an average day to enjoy the vitality of the renovated traditional market.