Hi-tech industry a potent growth engine in Vietnam

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A state of the art assembly line at the QSIC Vietnam company in the Ho Chi Minh City, District-9-based Hi-tech Park. (Photos by Nghia Pham)

The local hi-tech industry will be the key driving force to turn Vietnam into an economic power and it has to be developed accordingly, investors say.

Vo Huu Hai, CEO of Ho Chi Minh City-based Vietnam Semiconductor Manufacturing Company (VSMC), said in a global economy, multinational hi-tech corporations play an important role in developing countries.

However this does not mean they will generate much money for the countries themselves as revenues are sent back to mother companies, he said.

If Vietnam doesn't have a strong staff for its hi-tech industry, the country will find it difficult to achieve what South Korea and Japan have managed to do with big names like Samsung and Sony.

"As the government has limited funds, it's necessary to call for investment from venture funds and give them preferential tax policies," Hai said.

Hai set up VSMC in 2005 and three years later the firm successfully manufactured the first energy-saving microprocessor in the country that could help mobile devices like smart phones, PDAs and digital cameras cut power consumption.

The company last year announced a plan to develop a number of solar farms in various locations in Vietnam. Solar farms are power generation plants that generate electricity from sunlight using photovoltaic solar modules to supply power to the local utility grid, it said.

The story of Hai and his company is, fortunately, not an exception. Many overseas Vietnamese investors and researchers like him have come back to Vietnam, looking for opportunities in the fledgling hi-tech industry

Kiem Le founder of QSIC and CenterComm Corporation. Since 2005, QSIC has invested in a factory that produces electronic parts for the aviation and medical equipment industries.

Nguyen Thanh My was a technical manager of Kodak Polychrome Graphics and a researcher at IBM-Almaden Research Center in the US. He is the owner of around 50 patents, including an invention in computer-to-plate and digital-offset-press printing technologies, which brings him millions of dollars every year.

Not satisfied with his success abroad, My launched his own company in Vietnam, My Lan Group, majoring in optical electronic and printing technologies. The first factory in the southern province of Tra Vinh was opened in 2006 and the second, costing US$20 million to build, is expected to start commercial operation this month.

Another Viet kieu, Nguyen Trong Vu, was a senior technician at California-headquartered Applied Micro Circuits Corporation (AMCC), a global leading firm in energy conscious computing and communications solutions.

He returned to Vietnam in 2007 to establish AMCC Vietnam as a research firm to develop and design chips and boards.

Two years later Vu opened Huy Hoang Company to manufacture RFID (radio-frequency identification) chips after he was convinced by Ho Chi Minh City authorities to develop the hi-tech product in Vietnam. The chips can store and transmit data to a wireless receiver, suitable for use on products and animals.

"RFID is simply a small chip that has a memory of all data," he said. "This new technology can be applied to a wide range of fields including retail, healthcare, traffic and logistics. But it's hardly used in Vietnam, where everything is managed manually using bar codes."

"The technology is really necessary for a fast developing country like Vietnam," Vu said, noting that the company's products have already been exported.

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