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Taoyuan County Commissioner Chu Li-lun

A Niche County Surges Forward with Brand Power

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Sandwiched between the economic powerhouses of metropolitan Taipei and Hsinchu and initially regarded as having few prospects, once listless Taoyuan has become a place where more and more people live and work in contentment.

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A Niche County Surges Forward with Brand Power

By Alice Ting
From CommonWealth Magazine (vol. 406 )

Taoyuan County is different now!

Even though Taiwan's busy Sun Yat-sen Freeway slices right through Taoyuan County, getting onto it from most locales in Taoyuan used to require a long, circuitous and time-consuming drive. The vexatious roads were a serious impediment to development.

Over the past six years, however, 270 new roads have been built in the county, improving in one fell swoop transport bottlenecks going back 20 years. Severed from the rest of Jhongjheng Rd., the section once known as the road's "tail end" is now a six-land boulevard. Rows of Baroque mansions now fill once vacant, weed-choked fields alongside the roadway. The area has also been designated as a multipurpose arts district, and work will begin at year's end on an international-class baseball stadium.

"When you come here you can not only find work, but it's great place to live too," is a phrase that's often on the lips of Taoyuan County executive Chu Li-lun.

Initially, a lot of folks didn't think much of him, but no one doubts Chu's seriousness now.

Four years ago, the vast majority of city and county school systems nationwide were reducing classes, but Taoyuan County added 45 elementary and junior high schools to its system during the same period, opening new schools at a clip of nearly one per month. The reason for the surge in school construction was the 100,000 new residents who moved to the county during that period.

A similar situation occurred with regard to the county's industrial districts. With other counties and cities unable to attract enough businesses, Taoyuan County's 22 industrial districts created a staggering combined production value of NT$200 billion, 2.5 times the production value of the vaunted Hsinchu Science-based Industrial Park.

In this year's CommonWealth Magazine happiness survey of Taiwan's cities and counties, Taoyuan County ranked second in terms of governance, an indication of the level of resident approval Chu's administration enjoys.

Taoyuan once struggled for survival wedged between the commercial and economic powerhouses of Taipei and Hsinchu. Amid widespread pessimism, Taoyuan has gone from satellite city to migration destination, from manufacturing center to high-tech hot spot; the transformation has been remarkable. Against this prosperous backdrop, it's hard to imagine that six and one half years ago the county government was virtually drowning in red ink.

When Chu first took office in 2001, Taoyuan County had an annual revenue of just NT$21.7 billion, not even enough to pay its NT$22.3 billion in county employee salaries, and posted a deficit of NT$10.9 billion on the year, while total county debt obligations amounted to NT$18.5 billion. The county's financial predicament of living beyond its means prompted Chu to resolve to forge its economic power.

With his background in business management, Chu began to operate his county as a corporate brand.

Chu's first step in revolutionizing government efficiency was to set up a one-stop service window for businesses to aggressively attract commercial investment. His thinking was that with administrative efficiency, businesses would gladly locate in Taoyuan, bringing employment opportunities with them.

When companies set up shop in Taoyuan, the county's goal is to have them up and running within three months.

"Handle public documents at a leisurely pace? That's just not possible," says county Economic Development Bureau director general Randy Chiang, adding that in two years he has yet to receive a phone call in complaint.

As regards transport, Chu has integrated 33 urban development projects, and intends to complete a six-line mass rapid transit system within 10 years.

With more convenient transport and increased employment opportunities, the population has gradually begun to surge into Taoyuan. Once forlorn areas of the county are being increasingly replaced by vibrant street activity.

"Over the past several years the greatest change in urban character has probably been in Taoyuan," says Huang Li-ling, associate professor at National Taiwan University's Graduate Institute of Building and Planning. The county now leads the nation in the construction of new residential buildings. With development in Taipei City and County reaching the saturation point, Taoyuan, the urban area closest to Taipei, has become the destination of choice for people relocating from other parts of Taiwan.

Restrained by financial limitations, the Taoyuan County Government has brought in the assistance of companies like BenQ and King Car and organizations such as the Xue Xue Institute to assist in promoting its educational policy and helping out children in disadvantaged communities.

For example, funding for three "International English Villages" established by the county government was largely provided by private businesses. At the end of last year, the King Car Education Foundation cooperated with the county government in completing construction of the Wen-Chang International English Village, where all of the county's 10,000 fifth-grade students can enjoy access to comprehensive English-language resources.

With this kind of symbiotic cooperation between public and private sectors, businesses reap public image benefits, while the injection of greater resources for the county government accelerates the pace with which it can promote county affairs.

As Legislator John Wu, representing Taoyuan, sees it, over the past six years Taoyuan has become a vibrant, youthful place in pursuit of the bold and the new – a far cry from its formerly listless self.

Using Culture to Raise Brand Value

This year Taoyuan's population reached a new high, at over 1.96 million, and has edged closer to the scale of the country's two "special municipalities" – Taipei and Kaohsiung.

"Wherever the talent goes, that's where there's hope," Chu emphasizes repeatedly. But with Taoyuan in full pursuit of economic development, it runs the risk of having only economic productivity while lacking cultural depth and quality of life. With a rapidly expanding population it also runs the risk of increasing urban alienation.

As Legislator Wu stresses, local culture needs to be enriched. "Using culture can boost the value of the Taoyuan brand," he says.

Perhaps Chu Li-lun will devote his remaining time in office to endeavoring to strengthen his people's feelings of belonging.

How Did Chu Li-lun Change the Face of Taoyuan?

1. Aggressively pursued new business based on a clear understanding of local advantages.

2. Closely integrated Taoyuan with the major commercial and economic spheres of Taipei and Hsinchu.

3. Capitalized on cooperation with the business community to achieve objectives (such as establishing three International English Villages, the only ones of their kind in Taiwan).

Translated from the Chinese by Brian Kennedy


Chinese Version:  經營品牌力 夾縫城市超進化

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