Lee Kang-shin was reelected for his second three-year term as chairman of the Incheon Chamber of Commerce and Industry in March this year. His top goal is to make the chamber of commerce a center to communicate and realize win-win growth with three million Incheon citizens, putting into practice the ICCI's motto –- “Citizens Love Companies and Companies Love Citizens.” In particular, chairman Kang will carry out public relations activities for citizens in order to raise the market share of GM Korea that is the largest manufacturer in Incheon and a symbolic company of the Incheon economy, and do his best to secure the survival of the Incheon auto industry now suffering difficulties due to a rapid change in the automobile industry environment. BusinessKorea had an exclusive interview with chairman Kang. Following are excerpts from the interview with him.
Congratulations on your reelection as chairman of the Incheon Chamber of Commerce and Industry (ICCI). Would you tell us about major projects during your next term?
Over the past 133 years, the ICCI has been striving for the economic growth of the Incheon area. I will prepare for the next 100 years of the Incheon economy during my term as 23rd chairperson.
First, I will make Incheon a globalized city and create space where Incheon will actively interact with people from around the world. I will build the Incheon Global Marketing Center, which will display the products produced in Incheon and interact with people from all over the world during my term.
I will make the ICCI communicate and realize win-win growth with three million Incheon citizens. We will put into practice the ICCI's motto –- “Citizens Love Companies and Companies Love Citizens.”
The normalization of GM Korea seems to be the biggest problem facing the Incheon economy at present. What can the ICCI do for a soft landing of GM Korea?
GM Korea is the largest manufacturer in Incheon and a symbolic company of the Incheon economy. Not only ICCI but also three million Incheon citizens have been very concerned about the recent management crisis of GM Korea. The ICCI made various efforts for the early normalization of GM Korea such as making proposals to the government, holding debates, and rallies. Fortunately, on April 23, negotiations between the labor and management were concluded and negotiations about government support with the government entered the finalization phase. Accordingly, GM Korea is showing a sign of returning to normalization.
GM Korea's management problems have been resolved, but the automaker has lost consumers’ trust over the last few months. We will actively support GM Korea so that the automaker will be able to recover trust from consumers. We will carry out public relations activities for citizens in order to raise GM Korea’s market share in the Incheon area.
Moreover, we will spare no efforts to find a way for the survival of the Incheon auto industry having difficulties due to a rapid change in the automobile industry environment.
There are growing expectations for improved inter-Korean relations after the inter-Korean summit meeting. What are the effects of the normalization of inter-Korean relations on the economy of Incheon?
Incheon is geographically close to North Korea and is dreaming of becoming the center of the West Sea Economic Cooperation Belt connecting to the Gaesong Industrial Complex and Haeju in North Korea and the economic and transportation center of the Yellow Sea area linking to China and Russia. If an inter-Korean thawing mood is created and the inter-Korean economic cooperation is promoted, it will be a great help to the economy of the Incheon region. It is also expected that foreign investment such as free economic zone will be expanded, thereby providing a great opportunity for the Incheon economy, which is in need of new growth engines.
How will the ICCI support the development of eight regional strategic industries being pushed forward with by Incheon City?
The ICCI formed the Incheon Strategic Industry Forum last year to support the nurture and development of eight strategic industries in Incheon by gathering ideas from the industrial sector, academia and the government for the continuous development of the Incheon economy. Currently, the Port, Logistics, Aviation, And Bio Industry Groups were organized and are being run and all of the eight strategic industry groups will be organized one by one.
Through the forum, we will collect ideas for realizing the development of strategic industries and make plans and measures to turn ideas into realities by discovering industrial, academic, and government experts on strategic industries in Incheon and building networks among them.
What is the ICCI preparing to make the Incheon economy take the lead in the Fourth Industrial Revolution?
The advent of the era of the Fourth Industrial Revolution is both an opportunity and a crisis to the Incheon economy. The economy of Incheon has a traditional industry-centered structure, so a rapid change is needed for Incheon to adapt to the era of the Fourth Industrial Revolution.
Therefore, the ICCI prepares the education of local businesspeople so that they can prepare for and adapt to the era of the Fourth Industrial Revolution. In addition, we have various support programs in place such as companies’ change of their business areas and the introduction of smart factories.
There is a great concern among local businesspeople over the rapidly changing business environment such as shortening working hours and raising the minimum wage after the inauguration of the new administration. What roles can the ICCI play at this juncture?
Since last year, local businesspeople have been having difficulties due to labor problems such as a rise in the minimum wage and shortening working hours, both of which have been hot issues in the business world.
Particularly in Incheon, businesses with four or fewer employees accounts for 80% of the total, which makes them more sensitive to a rise in labor costs.
The ICCI runs various training programs to help companies adapt to changes in the labor environment. In addition, the government is making endeavors to minimize the changing working environment’s impact on enterprises by proposing the speed of changes in the labor environment and the implementation of new rules by enterprise sizes and business types.
Korea’s relationship with China has somewhat subsided, but there are still many hurdles to clear such as non-tariff barriers. What measures does the ICCI have?
As Korea’s relationship with China deteriorated last year, companies in Incheon with high trade volume with China suffered difficulties. The ICCI aggressively expanded its business regarding China with a belief that issues at the government level should not affect the private sector. We made a lot of efforts such as sending trade delegations and hosting import and export fairs and such efforts paid handsomely.
Although Korea’s relationship with China has improved this year, there are still many difficulties such as non-tariff barriers. We will address such problems one by one by working together with Incheon Metropolitan City and the central government. We will also strengthen private-sector exchanges and further promote trade with China.
Do you have any ideas about the Incheon economy 10 years from now?
Incheon is an industrial city that has led Korea's industrial development. Incheon is also a gateway to Korea with a world-class airport and port and a future-oriented city with a free economic zone that will determine the future of the Korean economy.
It is true that Incheon is having trouble due to the government's regulations on the Seoul metropolitan area, companies’ moves to other regions in Korea and even to overseas countries and its traditional industry-oriented industrial structure. However, Incheon has overcome all kinds of difficulties and grown into the third largest city in Korea. Incheon has the ability to overcome any difficulties and barriers wisely.
Incheon now has a population of over 3 million. Despite difficulties, the Incheon economy continues to grow. Ten years later, Incheon will be the second largest city in Korea by overtaking Busan. Incheon will be the center of a west coast economic belt of Korea and a major city in the economic bloc of Northeast Asia.