2007 Happiness Survey
On a Roll at the Local Level
Where in Taiwan are the residents proudest and happiest? Building a brand and finding unique identity can give small localities new life. How are Taiwanese cities and counties managing to stand out from the pack?
On a Roll at the Local LevelBy Scott Wang
From CommonWealth Magazine (vol. 380 )
The world wept recently as the voice of celebrated Italian tenor Luciano Pavarotti fell silent. The final stop on the Asian leg of Pavarotti’s worldwide farewell tour was Taichung Stadium. Taichung’s effective branding as a city of art and culture afforded the city’s residents a bountiful encounter with world-class music.
This year in a survey conducted by Yahoo! Japan, Irwin mangoes from Tainan County ranked as consumers’ favorite. Taiwan shipped over 1300 tons of the fruit, valued at over NT$100 million, to Japan this year.
Tainan County adopted a branding approach to establish Irwin mangoes from Yujing Township. In effect, this turned a single variety of fruit into an international brand, making the most of an agricultural county’s unique character.
Taoyuan County’s Wuling High School surpassed both Taipei First Girls High School and Taipei Municipal Jianguo High School to take the highest score on the national university entrance examination this year. “Wuling was never the best high school before, and parents used to send their kids to study in Taipei. But now they’re willing to let them study at Wuling High School,” relates Taoyuan County magistrate, Dr. Eric Liluan Chu. Chu believes that jobs bring people, and people care most about education. With this in mind, the county has dispatched two-thirds of its primary and middle school principals to learn from the Scandinavian experience as part of its program to cultivate first-rate faculty, and it has established Taiwan’s first English-language village.
Attracting people with job opportunities and education, Taoyuan has established the momentum and positioning of a commercial city. Yuan Ze University president T.P. Perng, an instrumental force in business and academic cooperation in Taoyuan, says: “You know what? The production value of Taoyuan’s high-tech industry is 1.8 times that of the Hsinchu Science-based Industrial Park.”
Branding Elevates Happiness, Revitalizes Localities
Even if Taiwan’s 23 cities and counties lack rich soil or agricultural output, whether they are more rural or industrial, distinctive positioning can turn local governments around and elevate their status.
Local government administration requires a vision, a strategy, and the capacity to put them into action, or the 23 million people of Taiwan could choose to migrate at any time or vote out the administrative chief for a new one.
“These days you can’t just pander to the voters; you have to compete by being distinct,” relates Tainan City mayor Tain-Tsair Hsu, waxing eloquent on how to stay on top of citizens’ short-term needs and the city’s long-term positioning. “Leaders at the local level can’t just hand out senior citizen stipends to boost approval ratings. Instead, they need to forge a legitimately proud city.”
Which Taiwanese localities are on the rise, and which are stagnant? Do local-level administrative chiefs in Taiwan help give residents happiness and pride? CommonWealth’s Happiness Survey takes a forward-looking approach to evaluating the performance of city and county chief executives, departing from subjective feelings about infrastructure development and welfare stipends.
Clean & Capable Service Yields Economic Prowess
The mayors of American cities are well known for focusing on jobs, because “jobs bring people.” Employment opportunities give hope and bridge the gap between the haves and the have-nots.
Seeking to boost efficacy in administrative service, Taoyuan County magistrate Eric Liluan Chu borrowed from the corporate model, arranging for more than 40 employees of the Taoyuan Economic Development Bureau to learn from EVA Airways flight attendants how to provide First Class cabin-level service to the public. With civil servants transformed by the experience, operations have been greatly sped up, turning unimaginative and stale administrative work into VIP-level customer service. Now, over 80 percent of local residents express satisfaction with the Taoyuan Economic Development Bureau’s performance.
Elevated administrative efficiency has increased businesses’ willingness to invest in Taoyuan County, creating an additional 20,000 or more jobs per year and attracting over 20,000 people to Taoyuan. Last year Taoyuan County generated nearly NT$200 billion in tax revenues, becoming one of Taiwan’s most attractive business destinations.
Livability through Culture and Environment
Yuriko Koike, a rising star on the Japanese political scene, once said, “The environment is an expression of economic character.” In order to maintain viability, the pursuit of economic development must not override attention to environmental protection.
Penghu County retains the top spot in this year’s CommonWealth survey for livability. While striving to develop Penghu as a major county for tourism and attract investment in the tourism industry, Penghu County magistrate Chien-fa Wang also stresses, “Everything is predicated on not doing damage to the local environment.”
County Magistrate Wang has observed that the tourists visiting Penghu in recent years have gotten younger and younger. “DIY travel is about seeing the beauty of nature. They want to go snorkeling, and to play on the beach.”
Over-development destroys natural beauty, he offers. So when he found out that Penghu’s basalt rock formations, considered a veritable geological classroom, had been vandalized with paint, Wang personally led employees in the cleanup. “When everything is clean and orderly, natural beauty comes out,” he asserts.
Socially Progressive Localities
The education gap caused by the disparity between rich and poor in Taiwan continues to widen. In particular, the cultural differences experienced by the growing number of “new Taiwanese” offspring of foreign-born spouses have resulted in a worsening divide.
In the effort to reduce the educational and cultural gap, Taipei County magistrate Hsi-Wei Chou, facing tight budgetary constraints, enlisted Lih Pao Construction to donate NT$10 million toward the New Citizens Torch Project for students and mothers at over 20 schools in the Sinjhuang area. The project puts government and social weight behind “new resident” family guidance and assistance.
One component of the New Citizens Torch Project is the New Citizens Storyteller Mothers Training. Many recently arrived mothers have a lot to offer, but due to the language barrier are unable to communicate the diversity of their native Southeast Asian culture to their children. With the training provided by this program, these foreign-born mothers can practice expressing themselves in Mandarin and develop intimacy with their children, helping them adjust to and integrate into Taiwanese society.
Beyond educating disenfranchised members of society, many city and county administrative chiefs put a premium on promoting agricultural development.
Taiwan’s entry into the WTO and the agricultural imports that followed have hit local agriculture hard, dramatically affecting farmers’ incomes to the extent that agriculture almost seems to have been abandoned. But Kaohsiung County magistrate Chiu-Hsing Yang and Tainan County magistrate Su Huan-Chih, both raised in poor farming families, are unwilling to give up on this “sunset industry,” believing that agriculture is the nation’s foundation and a force of stability in society.
The loftiest vision of Chiu-Hsing Yang, Kaohsiung’s “little giant” from the Yanchao area, is to “improve farmers’ lives.” Having grown fruit with his parents from a young age, he relates, “In the past it was common for farmers to be in debt. It was really tough on them.”
Since taking office he has devoted considerable effort to improving farmers’ lives. In addition to helping them improve crop varieties and enhancing quality, the county government has promoted agricultural exports and agro-tourism. Holding various events right where crops are grown, he has worked to promote tourist consumption at the source, generating NT$3 billion in annual production value for Kaohsiung County. Last year the total production value of Kaohsiung County agricultural products exceeded NT$6.5 billion.
Once Tainan County magistrate Su Huan-Chih began promoting exports to Japan, local mango growers no longer had to face the twin perils caused by overproduction – low pricing and waste. In the past not only did the bottom drop out of prices, but farmers were further forced to endure the heart-wrenching ordeal of dumping their mangoes into the river.
County Magistrate Su helped establish a mango grower’s curriculum vitae system to strictly control the mango production process, earning high marks from Japanese and Korean quarantine authorities. This enabled Tainan County to record over 1300 tons of mango exports this year, more than twice last year’s figure, not only helping alleviate domestic over-supply but also raising farmers’ incomes.
The Challenges: Implementation and Leadership
CommonWealth conducted a survey of 25 county and city chief executives this year. The survey found that in their efforts to boost city and county competitiveness, over one-half place the greatest emphasis on economic development, while nearly one-half are most concerned with environmental protection.
Furthermore, more than 70 percent of city and county chief executives surveyed believe their locale is plagued with educational gaps, and all 25 chiefs believe that bridging these gaps is the top priority for educational policy.
Devoting equal attention to environmental and educational concerns is a task most local chief executives will face in instituting policy in the future, and is a key component in forging satisfaction with the “brands” of cities and counties on the road ahead.
Subjective perceptions aside, the greatest challenges facing city and county chief executives are effective implementation and leadership.
Translated from the Chinese by David Toman