Since its inception in 2006, the Karnaphuli Export Processing Zone (EPZ) has been steadily growing to boost the country's export earnings in its 209-acre area, where the only state-owned steel mill once was until it wound down in 1999 crumbling under debts.
The same place is now vibrant with enterprises contributing to the country's economic growth and creating a staggering 78,000 employments over the course of 16 years.
The Karnaphuli EPZ, which is located in North Patenga – some 3km away from the Chattogram EPZ – has so far brought in export earnings amounting to nearly $10 billion.
The Bangladesh Export Processing Zones Authority (Bepza), the official organ of the government to promote, attract and facilitate foreign investment in the EPZs, created 258 commercial plots – each with an area of 2,000sq-m – in the Karnaphuli EPZ
According to Bepza data, in the 2006-07 fiscal year Karnaphuli EPZ began its journey with an investment of only $1.91 million. With a workforce of only 174 it registered $9.86 million in export earnings in the next fiscal 2007-08.
In the following years, investment amount only increased every year and more employment was created.
In the fiscal 2011-12, it drew an investment of $217.12 million, created employment for 26,830 people and the export income reached $489.01 million. In 2015-16, $433.04 million came in as investment, employment reached 63,118 and export earning hit $2928.50 million. In the 2019-20 fiscal year, investment was $611.54million, employment of a total 69,364 people were created and export earnings reached $6761.57million. As of October of the current fiscal year, the Karnaphuli EPZ attracted $704.05 million in investment, created employment to a total of 78,057 people while posting $9698.91 million in export earnings.
Currently, there are 51 companies operating in the Karnaphuli EPZ, including 29 garment manufacturers, two bag makers, two tent and outdoor product manufacturers, one furniture maker, 5 shoe and leather goods producers, two bicycle related manufacturers, two electronics manufacturers and 3 service-based companies.
However, 42 companies have been manufacturing in full swing. Among them, 27 are foreign owned, 12 owned locally and 3 jointly owned.
Karnaphuli EPZ Executive Director Engineer Mohammad Anamul Haque told The Business Standard, "The domestic and foreign investment, exports and employment in Karnaphuli EPZ are gradually increasing and we are confident the trend will continue."
Total investment in the 51 companies in the Karnaphuli EPZ is about $705 million, said Mr Haque.
He also pointed out that apart from direct employment opportuning, many establishments operating at the EPZ are also creating employment through backward linkage.
"Some companies are also providing sub-contracts to other companies outside," he added.
Salamat Ullah, the last managing director of the Chittagong Steel Mills, which ceased to exist before the Karnaphuli EPZ, said, "The factory failed to modernise itself with time and could not continue operation after the bank liability crossed Tk 500 Crore."
Salamat Ullah added that it was after the change of government in 2001, when the then Commerce Minister Amir Khusru Mahmud Chowdhury took the initiative to establish EPZ in the 209 acre area.