A dreamer boy, who lived in a small town in Incheon, has returned home to serve its citizens as the mayor of the city. The boy is Yoo Jeong-bok, who was elected the Mayor of Incheon Metropolitan City in the regional government elections in July this year. He had resigned his position as National Assembly member and the first Minister of Public Administration and Security of the Park Guen-hye government to run for mayor. Now, he dreams to develop the metropolitan city to become a key player on the world stage with 3 million citizens. He strongly believes that Incheon is a place of unlimited growth potential, as it connects Korea with the world through its airways and seaways. He said that he would do his best to realize the dream, beyond the accomplishments the city has made so far, in an exclusive interview with BusinessKorea. We spoke together about his dream, the current issues of the city, and his plan of city development and operation. What follows are some excerpts from the interview.
Congratulations on your inauguration as the sixth mayor elected by popular vote. The expectations of citizens must be great, as you were the first Minister of Public Administration and Security of this government. Please tell us how you feel about being elected.
My parents, who lost their hometown due to war, rebuilt their new life in Incheon with new hopes. For me, Incheon is the place where I have been dreaming of being a government official through watching the devotion and efforts of my parents to overcome poverty after the war.
Later on, many people thought I achieved my dream, as I have worked for the country and its people at the center of government and politics. However, I set down my status as a minister and member of the National Assembly, and chose my hometown Incheon. I could not turn away from Incheon, which is currently in a difficult situation, and has to meet the needs of the times.
I will put forward most of my efforts to make a happy city for citizens, which is the ultimate goal of the municipal government. I will not neglect any single thing, from a small happiness in daily life, to the long-term vision of megacity Incheon for the happiness of citizens.
I will try my best to make sure that 3 million Incheon citizens will remember 2014 as the first year of Incheon hope. I will become a “mayor of citizens” to prioritize citizens and a “working mayor” to work hard in the field.
As there are many difficult issues for Incheon Metropolitan City to solve, strong responsibilities must lay on you. Please clarify some of your urgent tasks.
There are many urgent issues, but securing the financial independence of the municipal government is the most important for a practical and strong local autonomy to be realized. Incheon has a long way to go. The city needs to find its own sources of tax revenue and solve habitual tax delinquency problems. Incheon also has urgent debt issues. I will try to transform Incheon from a debtor city into a rich city with strong financial integrity by preparing various solutions. I have been emphasizing changes and innovation in public offices many times at the inauguration speech and employee ordinance. Unless public officials change, the happiness of citizens is far away. Accordingly, I created a key slogan of Incheon to be “New Incheon, Happy Citizens.”
Furthermore, we have the most imminent task of hosting the Asian Games successfully. We will make this event an opportunity for a new takeoff of Incheon by emphasizing the strengths and potential of Incheon through thorough preparations. Together with President Park Geun-hye, I will develop Incheon into a specialized city of creativity and make Incheon an outpost of the improvement of Korea.
As the government is considering deregulations to nourish seven promising industries, Incheon Free Economic Zone is expected to benefit the most. Any plans or preparations regarding this?
The government announced investment activation plans centered on seven promising service industries at the trade investment promotion meeting hosted by President Park Geunhye at the Blue House on August 12.
The Incheon Free Economic Zone is included in several specific Blue House plans. First, there are the resorts. There are plans to establish the LOCZ integrated resort, Paradise integrated resort, and Dream Island integrated resort in order to promote tourism, which are all located in Incheon. For growing distribution, Incheon also is the target of a plan to alter the purpose of the use of the outlying areas around Incheon International Airport. For education, Incheon is again the target of a program to expand the number of foreign educational organizations that are founding branches in the city. And finally, to encourage the growth of the medical field, regulations will be relaxed about investment-capable hospitals in the zone to support medical tourism.
These promising service industries are essential to reform the Korean economy and achieve US$40,000 per capita income. I believe that having the Incheon Free Economic Zone as a main target for those industries shows that the location and future possibilities of Incheon Free Economic Zone is appreciated.
In particular, as service industries are most effective in integrated forms, integrated business models rather than dispersed models will be pursued. I will accordingly continue to provide active administrative support and promote investment opportunities so that major projects currently underway, including the LOCZ integrated resort, can be successful. I will try my best to make Incheon an exemplary region of deregulation and an outpost to lead the growth of promising service industries in Korea after all.
Regarding the investment attraction environments, what are the strengths and competitiveness of Incheon Metropolitan City? Tell us how to maximize them as well.
Incheon has the Free Economic Zone, international airport, and port. It is also very close to China geopolitically. However, these strengths have not manifested 100 percent yet.
What is hopeful, though, is that opportunities are constantly created based on the strengths of Incheon. Some examples include distribution competitiveness through the airport and port, and an MICE industry centered on Songdo and Yeongjong. These opportunities keep rolling in.
From now on, I will establish and conduct strategies for Incheon to become a growth driver of Korea based on stronger competitiveness through an investment attraction group directly under the mayor.
In particular, to be prepared for the Korea-China FTA negotiations being completed within this year, Incheon is figuring out various ways to invite Chinese capital. I will closely analyze the overseas investment status and promotion strategies of China and attract Chinese capital based on thorough preparations and comprehensive reviews including the investment directions of China, as necessary.
I will put most of my efforts towards making Incheon become the center of the global economy by being actively engaged in inviting Chinese capital through policies such as the activation of medical tourism for Chinese tourists, promotion of international schools for Chinese children living in Korea, and expansion of investment immigration.
The Asian Games is only one month away. There are still numerous tasks to complete. Tell us about the preparation status.
I believe the Asian Games this year is an important opportunity to advertise Incheon not only to Asia but also to many other countries around the globe.
I am focusing on integrating the Asian Games with cultural content so that anyone in the world could enjoy more than just a sports festival. I will prepare many things to see, eat, and enjoy.
The Incheon Asian Games is becoming a hot issue due to the participation of North Korea. North Korea sent 280 cheerleaders to the Busan Asian Games in 2002. Beautiful cheerleaders from North Korea are greatly raising the interest of the public. Through active cooperation with the 2014 Incheon Asian Games Organizing Committee, I will make sure that North Korean athletes and cheerleaders find no trouble in staying, transportation, or safety.
Moreover, special opening and closing ceremonies in which the future of Asia is presented through harmony with small and weak nations are being organized by the citizens of Incheon.
In addition, domestic and foreign artists, Hallyu celebrities, and idol groups will participate in the opening and closing ceremonies, as well as various performances to show Hallyu and the traditional beauty of Korea.
Famous chefs from many Asian countries will be invited, and the Asian Food Festival will be held. Diverse and energetic cultural events in which Hallyu can be experienced are being prepared for anyone to enjoy.