Along National Road 3, where trucks ferrying cement and other construction materials zip by to their sites, past the sprawling Vattanac Industrial Park, an unlikely sight looms into view. Breaking the low-rise monotony of industrial factories dotting the sides of the road is a six-storey high modern residential building under construction.
The residential building belongs to Le Urban Eco Park, an energy-saving industrial park owned by Singaporean developer Ocean Sky Investment. Unlike other industrial parks or Special Economic Zones (SEZs), Le Urban Eco Park has incorporated a residential and commercial zone to its planned 11 factories.
The ambitious project – built on a relatively small 20-hectare plot of land – has its own wastewater treatment plant to recycle water. While the entire eco-park is still under construction, there are already some residents staying in the serviced apartments, with one factory almost fully operational after moving in four months ago.
“The whole point of the eco-park is to support our workers and everybody who works around the area, such as at the Vattanac Industrial Park, to build a little community here,” said Kelvin Chua, business development director of the eco-park.
Together with his business partner and, Alvin Chua, they are in talks with major retailers to set up shop within the eco-park’s commercial zone, which will include food and retail stores, a café, and a supermarket.
While its main leisure park is yet to be built, the Chua brothers are excited about the finished product which will have a tree every few metres “and lots of green spaces”. About half a million dollars was pumped into the park to have more trees and grass all around, according to both directors.
Comprising 64 serviced apartments and 11 townhouses in the residential zone, there are plans to build more housing units, permitting there is demand.
In a separate residential zone nearer to the factories will be a 175-room dormitory building to house factory workers, with each room having the capacity to accommodate two to four people.
A walk around the almost fully operational factory exemplifies how the remaining ten factories will be built; with minimal use of electricity and optimal use of natural elements. Inside there is an unexpected small garden, while large ceiling fans overhead provide an alternative to electricity-guzzling water-cooling systems traditionally used in garment factories.
“We make use of natural sunlight in the ceiling structure, so in the day for a good 12 hours we don’t switch on lights in the factory, thus saving electricity,” Kelvin said.
Asked whether the development had faced any red tape from the government, the Chua brothers said the project was only met with encouragement and excitement for “such a forward thinking project to get kick started in Cambodia”.
San Chanphea, a HR officer for one of the operating factories at Le Urban, said feedback from some of the workers so far was very positive.
“It is big and we have a nice place to relax. We also strictly follow the Cambodian labour law, so workers don’t worry that the company they work for might cheat them on wages,” she said.
As the eco-park strives to be clean and green, it seems that it is driven to compete industrially on being cost-effective.
“It may cost a factory buyer 10 to 20 per cent more to build adhering to our standards, but if they plan on staying here long-term, they can save on electricity costs monthly. Overall, they can save about 50 per cent on utilities,” Kelvin said.
A year ago, the nearby Phnom Penh SEZ was reportedly facing enormous electricity bill issues. Kelvin said he had heard of a particular factory in Bavet spending up to $400,000 a month on electricity.
Nevertheless, Charles Esterhoy, chief operations officer of Kerry WorldBridge SEZ, said that the incorporation of green building standards, or environmental systems solutions, are already a mainstay requirement for most overseas manufacturers setting up factories in Cambodia.
“The inclusion of commercial facilities, restaurants, rental offices and housing is also commonplace in SEZs today,” he said.
“Since millions of dollars of raw materials, services and finished products are flowing in and out of Cambodia’s SEZs every day, these facilities are not “nice to have amenities” but rather are critical to meet investors’ needs,” he wrote in an email.
While Le Urban Eco Park’s success as an eco-friendly complex remains to be seen, Esterhoy believes that a SEZ holds more advantage in its close relationship and committed support from the Royal Government of Cambodia that oversees its accessibility and service levels.
Le Urban Eco Park is currently awaiting the Singapore standards’ BCA (Building & Construction Authority) Green Mark certification, which it is confident of obtaining soon.