With a skilled manpower generated from a number of educational institutions and a geographic location known for its agricultural products, Rajshahi has the potential to be an IT hub and an agro-based industrial zone, said stakeholders at a webinar arranged by The Business Standard.
Now it is necessary to plan properly and help the new entrepreneurs get easy bank loans, they said at the webinar titled "Industrialisation and livability: Where does Rajshahi stand?" held on 25 December. Shakhawat Liton, deputy executive editor of TBS, moderated the webinar.
Speakers also urged the government to introduce the one stop service effectively for entrepreneurs and make an environment-friendly development plan.
If this is done, in the next five years, Rajshahi will be known as the city of entrepreneurs besides being the city of education, they said.
Shakhawat Liton, deputy executive editor, The Business Standard
In Rajshahi, development projects worth several thousand crores of taka are now underway. But, is Rajshahi really a metropolitan city as we call it? What are the prospects for the region? Heavy industries have not yet developed here. It has a reputation as a livable city, but what will the state of the environment be when there will be more industrialisation?
Rajshahi has many good aspects like there are many educational institutions here. There are many educated youth. But why is Rajshahi Metropolitan City not able to provide employment to them? What are the challenges and possibilities of Rajshahi? We will discuss these issues today.
Dr Mizanur Rahman, professor of geography and environment, Rajshahi University
Rajshahi is the 4th largest metropolitan city of Bangladesh in terms of population and total area. The Rajshahi City Corporation is also in a better position from an environmental point of view than other city corporations. The city's communication system is good and environmental pollution is still low. Considering all this, we can say that Rajshahi is in a good position.
The education base of our metropolitan city has developed and due to the large number of educational institutions, people have always thought that employment would be created. There has been some employment here but that is not enough from a commercial point of view. Large commercial enterprises have been failing to provide employment.
Rajshahi does not have the environment with the necessary conditions and services for industrialisation. Fossil fuels are important for building heavy industries. Gas has not been supplied here. There is a small industry zone but it is struggling to survive.
Rajshahi city has got the title of the most livable city, but that title is based on PM2 and PM10 (particular matter). If we look at other issues, the development would be questionable.
By the way, PM or particulate matter is a mixture of solid and liquid floating in the air, which cannot be seen with the naked eye without a microscope. These can easily enter our body through inhalation and adversely affect our health. PMs are made of combining different types of chemical elements. The diameter of PM2 is less than 2 microns and the diameter of PM10 is about 10 microns.
I did a study on PM2 and PM10 at 60 stations in Rajshahi city where both the variations are found. Both PM2 and PM10 are found more in urban areas. If you look at the transportation route and traffic position, it is unhealthy. The pollution level increases considering carbon monoxide, sulfur dioxide. So, we cannot say that Rajshahi is absolutely pollution free.
However, there is no effluent treatment plant in the industry region. The polluted water is being used for agriculture in the adjacent areas. As a result, the amount of heavy materials, including nickel, in the soil is high which can also be found in the crops.
We usually focus on the economic side, but environmental safety should also be emphasised. Rajshahi needs an integrated sustainable economic plan for all the sectors.
We have to identify the employment opportunities in all the sectors, including agriculture, in the next 10 years. The number of educated employees should also be considered. Sustainable development would happen if we can ensure integrated planning involving the necessary infrastructures, education, medical, housing etc. But everything should be done without harming the environment.
It is necessary to prepare a master plan for Rajshahi city considering the current situation, which should include the question of new economic zones and the environmental impact of the industrial establishments
There is a large number of educated youths here who have graduated from different institutions including Rajshahi University of Engineering and Technology. There are many skilled people too. We need their involvement to make sustainable economic development in Rajshahi.
Sultan Mahmud Suman, vice-president, Rajshahi Chamber of Commerce and Industry
Heavy industries have not been developed in Rajshahi due to lack of necessary infrastructures. But it is a suitable place for agro-based industry and it is unfortunate that the government has not taken any step in this regard.
Earlier, young people of this region thought of going to Dhaka for employment but that mentality has changed. There has also been a visible development in infrastructure in the last 10 years. Seeing this development, investors from other regions are coming to invest in Rajshahi. The young generation here are also becoming entrepreneurs.
Rajshahi is going to be an entrepreneur-friendly city, which has been so far known as a city of education. Entrepreneurs from Rajshahi who have industries in other regions are now investing here. Nabil Group has 8-10 agro-based companies. I also have an agrobase company.
The authorities are setting up the BSCIC Industrial City-2 in Rajshahi. Many industrial establishments are buying land next to it. Many big companies of the country including Pran Group, Partex Group and Square Group are buying land near Godagari upazila in Rajshahi. Most of the companies are coming to Rajshahi to do agro-based industry.
Rajshahi is known as the grain store of the country and about 70% of the freshwater fish we consume in Bangladesh comes from this region. Currently, Rajshahi supplies 150 tonnes of fish worth Tk2.5 crore every day.
It is also an entrepreneur-friendly region. In the last six months, 300 new entrepreneurs have become our members. Entrepreneurs are coming every day to be a part of us. Most of them are involved in leather, jute, organic food, mustard oil, hand paint, block, beauty parlor and the IT sector business.
The young generation now do not want to go to Dhaka to find a job. Those who want to do government jobs take preparation in their own area. However, many of them are going to Dhaka or Chattogram to learn about business. They also ask us about how to start a business. The Rajshahi Chamber occasionally hosts programmes with entrepreneurs such as the entrepreneur fair. Rajshahi is already known as the most beautiful city in the country and it will be recognised as a city of entrepreneurs in the next 3-5 years.
We also provide various consultations from the Rajshahi Chamber to the young entrepreneurs. Our main vision is to bring the young emerging entrepreneurs to the forefront. We link young entrepreneurs to set a foot in the international market and last year we held a fair where representatives from Nepal and India came. Last month, the ambassador of Nepal visited us and in future we will invite the ambassadors of Bhutan and India.
We will also invite representatives from the SAARC countries in the next six months. We introduce our entrepreneurs with the foreign representatives and show them our potential.
We informed the ambassador of Nepal that there is a shortage of freshwater fish, poultry meat and eggs in his country and requested him to import these products from Bangladesh. The ambassador showed avid interest on the issue and said that the freshwater fish of Bangladesh is very tasty. He said they eat Burmese fish which is not so tasty.
We have a surplus of about 30,000 tonnes of fish after meeting the local demand. We also have a surplus in poultry and egg production. We are discussing the issues with the ambassadors of SAARC countries and showing them the activities of our entrepreneurs. We also show them products like leather, jute etc. We will go to the importers of these countries next.
We need to develop road communication with Nepal as the distance from Burimari in Rajshahi to Nepal is only 37 kilometres. But we do not have any road communication here. If the road was constructed, goods from Rajshahi could go directly to Nepal and vice versa.
The ambassador of Nepal came and made a statement with which the government of Bangladesh also agreed. Our products will enter Nepal directly through Chapainawabganj from next June. Our resources are ready and we are getting a lot of surplus production. We need to export these products.
New entrepreneurs, however, face many problems while taking a bank loan. Banks demand three years of experience and a good transaction. How does a young entrepreneur get these at the beginning? We should resolve these complexities soon.
We have already discussed the issues with the banks on behalf of the chamber. We are going to invite all the managing directors of different banks.
If everything runs according to the plan, Rajshahi will provide jobs for the people of other regions in the next five years. It will be a city of entrepreneurs. In China, for example, home-based industries have developed. Rajshahi is on that path. We need collaboration in financial institutions.
Our tax laws should be easy. If you want to set up an industry, you need 17-18 licences. Those who give these licenses have to have a cooperative attitude. The officials concerned should consider that today's small entrepreneurs will one day create big companies like Pran, Square etc. So, they need to change their mindset. Entrepreneurs will benefit if the government officials come forward.
Bangladesh Investment Development Authority (BIDA) has launched One Stop Service (OSS) to provide all services to investors in one place. However, not all services are available here. Entrepreneurs could be relaxed if all the services were available here.
Rozety Naznin, president, Rajshahi Women's Chamber of Commerce
Rajshahi has the potential to become an industrial city. Now the work has to be done properly as planned. The development that has taken place in Rajshahi in the last 10 years is astonishing to anyone who sees it. Rajshahi has a potential to be an agro-based city. We will be able to transform the city as an industrial city beside a city of education. There is also potential for the tourism sector. The mayor of the city has planned to build a tourism industry on the banks of the Padma River.
We have some limitations in transporting goods to different parts of the country. For example, we do not have direct rail communication from Rangpur to Rajshahi. If the communication system improves, it will contribute to the development of Rajshahi.
Both men and women are trying to be entrepreneurs in Rajshahi. Women used to be at home isolated from economic activities even a few years ago. They had no employment opportunities and no one was helping them to do business. Now women are coming forward. Many of them are involved in different economic activities even in their home. Women entrepreneurs would be more encouraged if the banks provide them a little more help by giving them easy loans. We want more cooperation from the banks.
Two or three women entrepreneurs in Rajshahi have invested in jute mills and cold storages. There are three cold storage owners who are members of our chamber. We need the government's help to run the women chamber smoothly.
Women face challenges while marketing their products. We arrange various trainings for women entrepreneurs on behalf of the Women's Chamber. We appeal to the government to create a separate market for women entrepreneurs in Rajshahi.
If the women's chamber has good communication and coordination with the local chamber, the work of the entrepreneurs will be more beneficial. We will recommend a new proposal to the Federation of Bangladesh Chambers of Commerce & Industries (FBCCI) to give organisational posts to the president of all the district level women chambers. The women's chamber should be attached to the local chamber.
Khairul Alam, chief executive, Fleet Bangladesh
I work as a freelancer in the IT sector. I want to see Rajshahi as the next Silicon Valley. It is time for us to develop an industrial zone here. For this, many things need to be further improved, including communication systems.
I want to see Rajshahi as Silicon Valley because it has a student base with 65% students who study in different educational institutions and they want to do something else besides studying. They find the IT sector smart. That's what my experience of three-and-a-half years says.
I have 550 people working in my company. Some are working part time, some are working from 9am to 5pm. I have built this company in Rajshahi in just three-and-a-half years. I have not faced any problems working here.
I have also got recognition from the world media as Forbes highlighted my success. But I did not have to go to Dhaka for this. The platform for the IT sector is ready in Rajshahi, all we need is to work.
I would like to work in two parts for employment in the local IT sector to make Rajshahi an exceptionally digital city. One is local employment and the other is outsourcing. There are many companies in Rajshahi like Nabil Group, Bestway, Aman Group and many more. They have created a lot of jobs in Dhaka. If we approach them to give us some work, there will be more employment in Rajshahi.
A portal is needed in Rajshahi where all the information required for investors can be found. I have a business in California and when I went to get a trade licence, I got all the services in one place. We need services like that in Rajshahi. There is a need to create a special window here which can be titled 'Investment Rajshahi'.
Around 20 to 25 workers from my company have become entrepreneurs themselves. I think the city corporation should arrange programmes regularly to inform the new entrepreneurs about the benefits eligible from the authorities. We have to make a master plan on how to move forward with the youth.
In order to attract investment in Rajshahi, separate facilities have to be provided. Excessive work has to be done for employment in Rajshahi. We have to form a team from Rajshahi City Corporation for the branding of Rajshahi. The big local businessmen here should also campaign for investment here. Only then will entrepreneurs be created in every house.