Kaesong factory-apartment opens new horizons for inter-Korean cooperation

Lee Joon-seung

A newly opened factory-apartment at the Kaesong Industrial Complex promises fresh possibilities for inter-Korean business cooperation, the developer of the facility said Tuesday.

The state-run Korea Industrial Complex Corp. (KICOX) said the dual-purpose manufacturing and residential facility is specifically designed for small and medium enterprises (SMEs) that are currently being phased out of South Korea due to the lack of workers and high labor costs.

At the formal opening ceremony of the factory-apartment, KICOX President Kim Chil-doo said, “The new facility provides an ideal business model for South Korea’s labor-intensive SMEs trying to stay afloat, and is an ideal means to start off business in North Korea.” About 300 people from South Korea were present at Tuesday’s opening in Kaesong, including lawmakers and Vice Industry Minister Oh Young-ho.

The 32 companies that will use the new facility are generally small clothing companies that were at the critical juncture of deciding whether to move to China and Southeast Asian countries, or close their businesses altogether. The factory-apartment provides an alternative means to continue making goods and is beneficial to all sides, the developer said.

By moving to Kaesong, the companies can stay in business by hiring workers for about US$60 a month, while 2,700 North Korean workers benefit from new jobs. In addition, the dual arrangement permits cheaper operating costs, a better working environment and allows companies to cooperate with each other for logistics support, said the developer.

The corporation, which runs 11 similar factory-apartments in South Korea, said the five-story building covers 27,880 square meters and was built in 14 months at the expense of 21.1 billion won (US$22.8 million). It is equipped with a storage area, a training center, a product display room, two dining halls, a store and fitness center. The new building is equipped with 71 dormitories for South Korean workers and various support staff.

The monthly rent in the factory-apartments is 4,500 won (US$4.9) per square meter, and there are six different floor arrangements available, ranging from 396 to 1983 square meters.

KICOX said that based on the projected success of the first factory-apartment, up to seven more will be built in Kaesong by 2010. It said 19,489 square meters of land were reserved in May 2007 for the project.

A second factory-apartment is being built the Kaesong Industrial District Management Committee (KIDMAC), and is scheduled for completion by late 2008.

Companies that have moved into the new factory-apartment, meanwhile, said they are satisfied with the proficiency of workers and cheap labor costs.

Ok Sung-seok, president of Nine Mode Co. and chairman of the corporate management committee at the KICOX factory, said Kaesong plants cost a third less to operate than similar plants in China. He added that his shirt-making company should turn a profit by next year.

“I ran a factory in Qingtao, China for four years, but the operating cost there is skyrocketing,” the businessman said. He said Nine Mode closed its Chinese factory and plans to downsize its operations in Seoul so it can concentrate on its efforts in Kaesong.

Ok said that depending on the type of business and size, four or five factories in the factory-apartments should turn a profit by the end of the year.

The Kaesong complex lies 60 kilometers northeast of Seoul, and is hailed as the crowning achievement of the historic 2000 inter-Korean summit. It has played a key role in expanding two-way economic exchange that stood at just $300 million in 1999 to $1.35 billion last year.

Construction of the industrial district began in June 2003, with 3.3 square kilometers of factory land have been built to house up to 450 firms. By 2012, 11.6 square kilometers of industrial park is to be laid down that can hold several thousand South Korean factories and hire over 200,000 North Korean workers.

There are at present about 13,000 North Korean workers employed by 57 South Korean firms in Kaesong that have churned out garments, watches, kitchen utensils, auto parts and other labor-intensive goods since 2004.

The complex just north of the demilitarized zone that separates the two Koreas has been in the spotlight after the second inter-Korean summit. South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun and North Korean leader Kim Jong-il agreed to build a region of peace and prosperity centered around Kaesong and the North Korean city of Haeju, 75 kilometers west of Kaesong.

“People at Kaesong expect progress to be made in such areas as communications and travel, which had previously been an obstacle to the development of the industrial district,” said a KIDMAC official. The prime ministers of the two sides are to meet in November to implement follow-up measures to the summit.

There is only one telephone line linking Kaesong with Seoul, while no mobile phones are allowed in the area. People and materials are also prevented from moving in and out of the complex.


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