Export-oriented industries have not been established in Cumilla even in 50 years since independence despite having a favourable business environment, geographical location, and access to cheap labour.
Although the district has more than 800 large and small-scale industries outside an Export Processing Zone, only four of them are export driven.
People concerned say the district is lagging behind in terms of investment as government policies in this regard are largely focused on Dhaka and Chattogram.
But, because of having a land port and a close proximity in communication access to the capital and Chattogram port, the district can be a good place for investment, they said.
Local business communities say the Cumilla branch of the Export Promotion Bureau (EPB), which was established in 1979, has failed to promote the growth of export driven industries in the district.
In this office, only 17 companies other than RMGs have renewed their licences this year, most of which are located in Akhaura, Brahmanbaria. Most of these companies export goods they buy from others but do not produce themselves.
EPB officials in Cumilla say they provide various services to importers and exporters in the division to promote exports, including arranging two seminars annually, providing export-related information on their website and giving awards to the highest exporting companies.
However, they say their activities are very limited as the number of export-oriented companies is very low in Cumilla.
AHM Ershadur Rahman, assistant director, EPB, Cumilla, told The Business Standard (TBS), "Some exporters in Cumilla renew their licenses from Dhaka. Moreover, many exporters have started self-declaration whereby the activities of this branch have almost come to a standstill."
According to sources, outside Cumilla EPZ, only four export-oriented companies are listed with the Export Promotion Bureau, namely Army Shirt, Denim Fashion, Lalmai Footwear, and JM Footwear. About 25,000 people are employed by these companies and another 50,000 work in Cumilla EPZ factories.
People concerned say that if the number of exporting companies increased, there would be employment for a large number of people in Cumilla.
They say Cumilla has an ideal location with close communication proximity to Dhaka and Chattogram which is favourable for export-oriented investment. Cumilla's Bibi Bazar land port is also an asset in this regard.
Moreover, with a huge population, the district can provide cheap labour for export-oriented factories.
Civil society and businessmen of Cumilla expressed concern about the lack of industrial investment in the district despite having a conducive business environment.
They requested the government and investors to consider Cumilla as a potential location for export-oriented industrialisation.
They said that if goods can be exported from places like Tangail, Narsingdi, or Mirsarai using Chattogram port, then it should be easier to export goods from Cumilla.
Ali Akbar Masum, president of Shushashoner Jonno Nagorik, Cumilla, said, "Industries in Cumilla have always lagged behind in terms of export. One reason for this could be regional investment trends in the country. The government can take necessary steps to increase investment in Cumilla, given its convenient geographical location and conducive business environment."
Jamal Ahmed, president of Comilla C&f Agent Association, said, "In our country, most investments are Dhaka and Chattogram centric. Cumilla can also be a centre given it is very close to Chattogram port."
Masud Parvez Khan Imran, president of Cumilla Chamber of Commerce, mentioned several reasons for the lack of investment in Cumilla.
"Cumilla airport is not in operation and so foreigners do not want to come here and there is no direct rail line with EPZ. Earlier, there was a rail link from Mainamati station to the EPZ area. Products from Cumilla could be easily transported to Chattogram if the existing rail line is extended just another two kilometres. It would also allow for easy transportation of machinery needed for setting up industries," he said.
AKM Mamunur, deputy director, Department of Inspection for Factories and Establishments, Cumilla, said, "There has been no planning to increase investment in Cumilla which is why Cumilla is lagging behind in terms of export-oriented industries."