Amata on the March as Smart City Vision Lures Multinationals to Southeast Asia

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With a major Japanese cluster and zones for Chinese, Korean and European companies, entrepreneur Vikrom Kromadit’s fast-growing network of eco-industrial parks in Thailand, Vietnam and Laos offers unique entry points to a vast consumer market

Smart city in the making: Amata’s flagship Chonburi industrial park with country club and golf course in the foreground.

When Yoji Okumura, President of Japanese construction giant Fujita Corp., was offered the chance to build a luxury hotel inside an industrial park in eastern Thailand, he recognized a rare opportunity.

For starters, the location was no ordinary factory zone. Amata City Chonburi is the jewel in the crown of Thai entrepreneur Vikrom Kromadit’s Amata Corp., a company that in little more than 30 years has parlayed one small block of land outside Bangkok into a network of strategically located, sustainably powered industrial parks spanning Thailand, Vietnam and, most recently, Laos.

Hosting companies from 28 countries that employ over 350,000 people in more than 1,400 factories and commercial outlets, Amata has become the entry point of choice for foreign multinationals seeking to expand production into Southeast Asia, a region that boasts a $3.2 billion economy and more than 660 million consumers.

Fujita Corp. had already profited from Amata’s rapid growth by successfully building 11 factories at Amata City in Bien Hoa, Vietnam. Now, Fujita had the chance to partner with Amata, Okura Nikko Hotel Management Co. and a Japanese investment fund to build a Nikko-branded four-star hotel at Amata City Chonburi, where Vikrom’s futuristic vision of a smart city is taking shape.

Located in the heart of Thailand’s high tech Eastern Economic Corridor barely one hour traveling time from downtown Bangkok and the city’s main air and sea ports, Amata Chonburi features over 800 industrial and commercial tenants, including a world class golf course and country club, shops, schools, banks and a hospital – all set in lush green surroundings.

More crucially for a Japanese-branded hotel location, Amata Chonburi also offers a ready-made market through the presence of over 400 Japanese factories – one of the largest such concentrations anywhere in the world outside Japan.

Indeed, so strong is the Japanese connection at Amata Chonburi that Vikrom has struck a deal with Japan’s second largest city, Yokohama, to develop a “second Yokohama” smart city there. The 220-room Hotel Nikko Amata City, which opened in 2022, is the Yokohama masterplan’s first realized project.

“From our point of view as a construction company with a track record of building a lot of factories in industrial parks both domestically and overseas, the Amata Smart City concept is definitely unique,” Fujita’s Okumura, said in an interview. “It provides a great opportunity for us to connect with current and future Japanese companies and showcase our construction technologies.”

Such opportunities are not confined to Amata’s Japanese clients. Since opening his first industrial park on a six-hectare pocket of land in 1989, Vikrom’s developments – now covering more than 100 square kilometers -- have also become hubs for companies from mainland China, Taiwan and South Korea as well as housing Western corporate giants such as BMW, Nestlé and Cardinal Health.

For many of its partners and tenants, Amata provides a ready-made stepping-stone to neighboring countries. From its base in Thailand, Southeast Asia’s second largest economy, Amata in 1994 expanded into fast-growing Vietnam. Beginning in Vietnam’s south by building industrial parks in Bien Hoa and Long Than near Ho Chi Minh City, Amata in 2021 also headed north to open Amata City in Ha Long, close to Hanoi and the border with China, where Shanghai-based new energy giant Jinko Solar, one of the world’s largest solar panel makers, became the first tenant.

Then in 2022, Amata crossed another frontier by announcing plans for two “Smart and Eco Cities” in Laos, where a newly opened high speed rail line connecting the landlocked country with China and Thailand promises to unleash the country’s economic potential.

The world’s third largest manufacturer of solar cells, China’s Jiangsu Runergy New Energy Technology Co., is already exploring the potential options offered by Amata’s growing cross-border network. In 2020, Runergy chose Amata City Rayong, south of Chonburi, for its first factory outside China.  And since establishing its Thai unit there, the company has recently been checking out expansion opportunities in Amata’s developments in Vietnam and Laos, according to General Manager Song Wenxiang.

“We have a very good supplier and customer in an Amata City zone in Vietnam, so we are particularly interested in looking there,” Song said in an interview. “At Amata, you are not just alone. Your partners, your supply chain are there also.”

Before joining Runergy, Song worked in Sweden for 10 years, traveling frequently to industrial parks in Europe and other parts of the world. “I have never before seen the quality that Amata provides,” Song said. “We knew so many Chinese companies had factories in Amata zones, but we were still very surprised to find that Amata had such a well-organized Chinese speaking team that could help us. They responded to our questions immediately, even at weekends.”

Plentiful water supplies helped seal the deal. In a region in which water isn’t abundantly available and demand is forecast to rise by 5.7 billion cubic meters by 2037, Vikrom’s philosophy has been to never waste a drop. Possibly the first Thai company to fully recognize the potential of recycled wastewater, Amata not only built vast reservoirs inside its two Thai industrial parks, it also started to place solar farms on top of them as part of a green energy portfolio that powers its water treatment plants. Today, 100 percent of all wastewater is recycled, reducing the demand for natural water by 40 percent.

“Amata helped us so much with water resource allocation to support our production,” Runergy’s Song said. “We did not get that kind of support from other industrial zones.”

Water supply, along with electricity and natural gas, was also a high priority for Posco Coated Steel (Thailand), a unit of the mighty South Korean steelmaker Posco Holdings. Thailand is one of the world’s leading auto manufacturing and electronics hubs with many leading manufacturers and suppliers based in Amata factories.

In 2015, Posco opened its factory in Amata City Rayong to supply galvanized steel products for home appliance and vehicle makers. Since then, annual production for auto products has grown from 2,000 tonnes to 153,000 tonnes, with revenues in 2022 topping $350 million. “It‘s been a huge achievement for the company,” says the Thai unit’s Corporate Planning and Finance Executive, Sanggil Park.

Park credits Amata’s support for playing its part. “Amata provides very consistent service,” he says. “We have a good relationship with them because they listen to our opinions. We have a channel to communicate with them always.”

Taiwan’s leading rubber component manufacturer, Ge Mao Rubber Industrial Co., or GMORS, is another satisfied customer. Founded in 1986 by six brothers, GMORS operated factories in Taiwan and mainland China’s Guangdong province before choosing Amata City Chonburi for its first and so far only factory outside Greater China.

Since opening in 2012, the factory has more than doubled in size and now accounts for 40 percent of the company’s production, according to GMORS Vice President Nien Cheng-ming. “We plan to continue to expand capacity there,” he says.

Maker of rubber seals such as the widely used 0-ring, GMORS supplies vehicle, aerospace, medical device and semiconductor manufacturers. Lured to Thailand by the booming auto industry and the “friendly people and safe environment”, Nien says the company chose Amata after checking out other possible locations. “Amata was much better compared with the other options,” Nien says. “It is much more efficient and the location is very good midway between the airport and Laem Chabang port.”

Such testimonials justify Vikrom’s claim that “98 to 99 percent of our customers are totally successful.” Raised in Thailand’s rural Kanchanaburi province and educated at National Taiwan University, the self-made, multilingual Vikrom first dreamed of business success as a boy riding a buffalo across the sugar cane fields of his family farm.

Today, at 70, he’s arguably Thailand’s best-known entrepreneur, a prolific writer and broadcaster whose 25 books have sold 10 million copies. An advocate of sustainability and the circular economy long before it became widely fashionable, Vikrom has ensured Amata’s smart cities will live up to their name by not only recycling water but using everything from solar panels to garbage to generate power. In the process, Amata is also helping its multinational clients meet their own increasingly challenging carbon-free climate targets.

Amata’s success, Vikrom says, is based on what he terms good service, good price, good quality. “We never stop our dream to improve, to serve our customers better,” Vikrom says. “That is why we are different, why our customers are successful and happy. They can focus on production and sales. We do everything else.”

Early in his entrepreneurial journey, Vikrom chose the name Amata for his company because it is a Sanskrit word meaning eternity. “We are here to support our customers forever,” Vikrom says. “Our goal is to be a real city with all the people in the future living there working there, not needing to go anywhere.”

Judging by his success meeting past targets, that goal may not be far away.

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