The key ingredient in China’s phenomenal growth over the past three decades has been effective infrastructure, enabling manufacturers to export products around the world. It is an ingredient that has not been forgotten as the shift from a manufacturing to a hi-tech economy continues.
A decade ago, Beijing ETOWN might have seemed an odd location for a new hub for high-end, hi-tech industry, situated on a vast plain southeast of the capital that was once home to collective farms and fertile rice fields.
A fair distance from downtown where professionals preferred to live and from the Chinese capital’s main international airport, it took a leap of the imagination to envisage the transformation that would take place in the intervening years.
Today, Beijing ETOWN has established itself as the beating heart of a new movement towards hi-tech, high-end industry in China, with first-class road and rail links combined with an increasingly impressive internal infrastructure. And it is rapidly becoming a popular place to live as well as an effective location to work.
Continually improving subway, light-rail and bus routes connect the zone to downtown Beijing while its network of roads link seamlessly with expressways linking Beijing and Shanghai and high-speed rail links, the fifth and sixth ring roads, the airport highway and other major urban routes.
Within the zone, there is a one-stop government administrative building offering a full suite of services, including taxation offices, customs offices, industry and commerce services and inspection and quarantine services, to make running businesses as trouble-free as possible.
World-class new apartment blocks and housing developments are rising across Beijing ETOWN and it now has a range of first-class hotels, including a Holiday Inn Express and the Pullman Beijing South, popular with visiting overseas businessmen and corporate guests.
There are shopping malls, including Sam's Club, and around 10 major supermarkets where residents can eat out, buy clothes and seek out entertainment such as IMAX cinemas. The zone also features a diverse range of restaurants – offering everything from western to Chinese to Japanese, Korean and southeast Asian food – that are little by little making Beijing ETOWN a place to live as well as a place to work.
Educational resources range from kindergartens and primary schools to middle schools and international schools popular with expatriate families. The Beijing Vocational College of Electronic Technology offers tailor-made, specialized training for companies within the zone.
With a public general hospital, specialized hospitals, a community health centre and 120 first-aid stations, the zone has a sophisticated public health service system, including the Beijing Tongren Hospital, which is famous for its world-class ophthalmic medical treatment.Weekends in Beijing ETOWN offer many more distractions than a decade ago when residents tended to go downtown for their entertainment. Today, there is a golf course, a sports centre, libraries, digital theatres and book stores as well as some surprisingly lively nightlife.
“Before 2008, the infrastructure was good but most employees chose to live downtown – we had a shuttle-bus service for them,” recalls Zhang Yu, vice-president of Chinese LCD panel maker BOE.
“It was like Silicon Valley in those days,” he says. “In the daytime, there were lots of people working here, but in the evenings, there were very few people around.
“Since 2009, however, it has been a totally different picture. On the way to work, you can see lots of shopping malls, cinemas, supermarkets and all different kinds of facilities being built. Today, a big proportion of our employees working here have bought apartments in ETOWN. They not only work here but they live here too.”
Chen Young, Beijing general manager of GE Healthcare, says a good proportion of new hires in the company of 7,000 employees are now choosing to live in ETOWN. “About 20% of our workforce live here but the percentage of new hires is much higher.
Property prices in the zone have risen slightly in recent years as more people make it their home. However, living costs remain relatively low compared with downtown Beijing – with considerable environmental advantages.
At a time when central Beijing is often choked with traffic, ETOWN remains refreshingly free of tailbacks and hazy skies.
Keeping the skies as clear as possible is a priority. Since its very beginning, ETOWN has had a powerful commitment to creating as green an environment as possible. Every one of its street lights is LED and, with the government’s encouragement, companies appreciate the benefits of energy saving and a greener environment.
The biggest change to the area’s infrastructure will come with the highly anticipated opening of a second international airport, provisionally named Beijing Daxing International Airport, and located just 20 kilometres from Beijing ETOWN.The Rmb200 billion ($32 billion) airport, covering an area of 2,680 hectares, is due to be completed in October 2018. It will be linked to the city by a 37-kilometre subway and high-speed rail line.
The opening of the new airport will subtly shift the axis of Beijing in terms of its industry and infrastructure, aviation logistics industry, conference and exhibition trade and the location that high-end companies choose to operate from.
When the first flights take off from Daxing, Beijing ETOWN will find itself within easy reach of two major international airports, making it an even more attractive place not only to work but to live.