Uttara Export Processing Zone (EPZ) in Nilphamari has been playing a crucial socio-economic role by generating around 30,000 jobs in northern Bangladesh where seasonal and localised unemployment were quite frequent.
Before the establishment of the EPZ, the average daily income of people living beside the EPZ was Tk40 or less, according to the Bangladesh Export Processing Zones Authority (Bepza) that built and now runs the Uttara EPZ.
Their current average daily income has reached Tk280-320 thanks to employment generated by Uttara EPZ, says Bepza.
Uttara EPZ, one of the eight EPZs in the country operated under the Bepza, is located at Sangalshi in Syedpur upazila of Nilphamari. Investors from Bangladesh, China, Hong Kong and the United Kingdom have invested around Tk1,850 crore here.
Factories at the EPZ are manufacturing a variety of products such as world-famous brand Michael Kors handbags, wigs, spectacle frames and sunglasses, toys, bamboo-cane coffins, sweaters and garment accessories. The EPZ's exports so far amount to Tk14,000 crore as it logged $1.3 billion in the 2019-2020 fiscal year.
According to Bepza, there are currently 24 industrial units at the EPZ while five more factories are waiting to go into production.
Uttara EPZ was established in 2001 to create massive employment through industrialisation in the northern swathe of the country. The EPZ, built on 212 acres of land, has become the centre of income-generating activities in the region. Many small ventures have sprawled centring the EPZ, thus increasing the local cash flow.
Authorities said the EPZ is a shining example of how a far-sighted government decision can change the socio-economic picture of an entire region.
Major General Md Nazrul Islam, executive chairman at Bepza, said Uttara EPZ has played a major role in alleviating poverty in the region by generating about 30,000 jobs.
"In other words, 30,000 jobs mean 30,000 families have been lifted out of poverty. We are setting up another export processing zone on 1,831 acres of land in Gaibandha. Agro-processing factories will be set up in the new EPZ," he told The Business Standard.
At Uttara EPZA, Major General Nazrul said they have established public schools and colleges to provide education to the children of the workers. Workers are receiving free healthcare from EPZ Medical Centre.
At the EPZ, around 66% of the workers are women as the export processing zone in the faraway district is contributing to women empowerment.
After Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina came to power in 1996, she initiated the process to set up Uttara EPZ and inaugurated it in 2001.
Bepza offers various incentives to investors in its facilities. By investing in the export processing zones, investors can get tax holidays, duty-free imports of raw materials and equipment, tax exemption on dividends and duty-free foreign market access.
Under Bepza, there are now eight EPZs such as Chattogram, Dhaka, Mongla and Ishwardi EPZ.
Currently, Bepza contributes to around 20% of the country's total annual exports, of which 64% account for non-RMG items.