Iskandar, Malaysia: Invest, Work, Live and Play

Strategically located at the tip of the peninsula of Malaysia and adjacent to Singapore, Iskandar Malaysia is the single largest special economic zone ever to be developed in the region. The purpose of the development is to transform southern Johor state into a high income and sustainable metropolis of international standing.

We want to be as smart as possible. In our framework of a smart city, we are not only about embracing technology and infrastructure, but also smart people… This is the hard bit. – Datuk Ismail Ibrahim, Chief Executive, Iskandar Regional Development Authority

The area is divided into ‘Flagship zones’, each consisting of a different themed cluster:

Flagship A: heritage and finance and business district

Flagship B: an administrative center with education, leisure and tourism, and healthcare clusters

Flagship C: a port / free trade zone / industrial and logistics center

Flagship D: a port, industrial zone / technology park

Flagship E: luxury shopping destination, cybercity, industrial and logistics center.

Iskandar Malaysia is an ‘invest, work, live and play’ environment that seeks to balance lifestyle with good quality education and healthcare facilities supported with leisure elements within a conducive work environment.  Architecture and development projects are built using materials and plants drawn from the wealth of local knowledge, design and aesthetics found in Malaysia. While striving to be international, planners and developers of Iskandar Malaysia prioritize and reinforce the distinct local culture and identity of southern Malaysia, which will differentiate this project from other projects in the world.

Know your limitations and resources. Build on the resources you have. We are leveraging on our strategic location next to Singapore. – Datuk Ismail Ibrahim, Chief Executive, Iskandar Regional Development Authority

Iskandar, Malaysia

Key Facts

Timeframe: 2007-25

Intended population: 3 million (2025), 1.4 million workforce

Size: 2,217 square kilometers (3 times the size of Singapore)

Estimated committed investments to date (2007 – 2013): USD $40.2 billion

Financing: The Malaysian government spent USD $2.8 billion to finance the improvement of existing infrastructure and the creation of new critical infrastructure. The balance of investments is from private investors, both foreign and domestic. Foreign investors come from diverse countries including Singapore, the U.S., UK, Spain, Japan, Korea and Australia. Private local investors include Khazanah Nasional Berhad, Johor Corporation, UEM Sunrise Berhad, Medini Iskandar Malaysia, Sunway Group, Genting Group, Iskandar Investment Berhad, Iskandar Waterfront and many more.

Planners / contractors: Five local authorities have jurisdiction over different areas in Iskandar Malaysia.

Environmental and sustainability strategies:

  • Iskandar Malaysia is the pilot site for the Low Carbon Society (LCS) initiative, a collaboration between Universiti Teknologi Malaysia, IRDA, Japan’s Kyoto University and Okayama University and supported by JICA Japan.
  • Among the LCS initiatives will be: recycling and upcycling programs, improved and enhanced public transportation, including Bus Rapid Transit, a Rail Transit System linking Singapore to Johor Bahru, and encouraging the use of renewable energy.

Industries: Building on an existing strong manufacturing and industrial base, Iskandar Malaysia will further develop the services sectors while reinforcing targeted manufacturing sectors. The key manufacturing sectors are electrical and electronic, oleo chemicals and petrochemicals including oil and gas, and agro and food processing.  In the services sectors, Iskandar Malaysia is promoting investment into the tourism, education, healthcare, creative, logistics and financial services sectors. Each of the services sectors has catalytic projects to jumpstart investments into the sector. Some of the catalyst projects that have been implemented are the Johor Premium Outlets, LEGOLAND, Puteri Harbor Family Theme Park, EduCity with branch universities from University of Newcastle, University of Southampton and University of Reading, and Pinewood Iskandar Malaysia Studios, which are bringing in more visitors and drawing international interest into the development.

Precedents: Iskandar Malaysia looked to a variety of precedents, including Vancouver and Melbourne as top-rated livable cities, Shenzhen and its synergy with Hong Kong as well as the healthy competition between Abu Dhabi and Dubai.

Attractivity: Iskandar Malaysia seeks to attract people from the broader ASEAN region (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) by being accessible, affordable, safe and a reliable region to visit and in which to invest. The region offers proximity to Singapore and has a more orderly, clean and green lifestyle than can be found elsewhere in Malaysia. As a special economic zone, Iskandar Malaysia seeks to draw investments with its regulatory framework and incentive (fiscal and non-fiscal) packages.

Local challenges: 

  • Trying to balance government intervention while allowing the private sector to lead the economy.
  • Learning from international examples while navigating a unique path that charts an original direction to develop unique solutions to local problems.

This post is part of a series tied to Cityquest – KAEC Forum, our leadership event on new cities. Each week, we’ll publish extracts from the report from our inaugural Cityquest event in 2013. Access the full report here.