Economic Development Board

Singapore Infopedia


The Economic Development Board (EDB) is a statutory board established on 1 August 1961 to spearhead Singapore’s industrialisation programme.1 Presently, the board plans and executes strategies to enhance Singapore’s position as a global business centre, and its mission is to boost the economy with vibrant business and good job opportunities.2 Under the Ministry of Trade and Industry (MTI), the EDB has a network of offices in America, Europe and Asia.3

Early years: 1950s
In 1959, the People’s Action Party (PAP) formed the new government of the self-governing state of Singapore.4 At the time, Singapore was beset with sociopolitical and economic problems. Making economic development was its top priority. A gamut of legislative incentives, such as the Pioneer Industries (Relief from Income Tax) Ordinance, the Industrial Expansion (Relief from Income Tax) Ordinance and the Control of manufacture Ordinance, were all enacted in 1959.5 The PAP drew up its five-year economic policy, The Tasks Ahead which reiterates “self-reliance in politics as well as in economics” and mentions the establishment of a statutory economic development board.6

A 1961 United Nations study headed by Albert Winsemius, which aimed to propose an industrialisation programme for Singapore,7 heralded Singapore’s industrialisation programme and the formation of EDB. To tackle the problem of high unemployment,8 the United Nations report recommended a comprehensive industrialisation programme to provide job and training for locals.9

The EDB’s predecessor was the Singapore Industrial Promotion Board (SIPB), which was set up in 1957 to promote and facilitate industrial development.10 However, the SIPB’s capital resources and its organisation soon became insufficient for driving an extensive industrialisation programme, as its activities were limited to providing small loans to a few small industrial operators.11

On 26 April 1961, then Minister for Finance Goh Keng Swee tabled the EDB Bill at the Legislative Assembly.12 The bill was passed on 24 May 1961.13 The EDB Ordinance came into force on 1 August that year. The SIPB was thus officially repealed and all its assets, liabilities and obligations were transferred to and vested in the EDB.14 Hon Sui Sen, who was then the permanent secretary (economic development) at the Ministry of Finance, was seconded to the EDB as its first chairman.15

The EDB was given a capital of $100 million for its industrial development plan.16 E. J. Mayer, a former industrial planner was appointed its first managing director.17 There were four divisions within the EDB: Investment Promotion Division to attract foreign and local entrepreneurs; Finance Division to manage financial activities such as investments and lending; Projects Division and its Technical Consultant Service to evaluate the technical and economic feasibility of projects; and Industrial Facilities Division to ensure adequate provision of industrial land.18

Over the decades, the EDB has gone through organisational changes, moving from the “traditional administration of various ordinances and acts, investment promotion and industrial and manpower planning to more dynamic and imaginative investment promotion in both manufacturing and services supported by ancillary manpower, supporting services and marketing development”.19

The initial task of the EDB was to build infrastructure conducive for industrial development.20 Its Industrial Facilities Division helped to transform Jurong from a swampland to an industrial estate.21 An import substitution strategy was adopted to create jobs in labour-intensive industries in the low-value-added factories that produced items such as garments, toys, wood products and wigs.22

After Singapore became an independent state in 1965, the country’s focus shifted towards export manufacturing, internationalisation and attracting foreign investments.23 The first overseas centre directors were P.Y. Hwang in Hong Kong in 1966 and Chan Chin Bock in New York in 1968. The one-man operations had the arduous tasks of “knocking on doors to explain Singapore”. Direct mails with information about Singapore and the investment potential were sent to the top 500 American corporations.24

As the industrialisation programme expanded, the EDB focused its efforts on investment promotion and industrial development. In 1968, the government established two entities: Jurong Town Corporation (JTC), which took over the responsibility of industrial estate development; and Development Bank of Singapore, which specialised in industrial financing.25 With the injection of foreign investment and the creation of jobs, unemployment rate gradually declined.26 The establishment of a factory in Singapore by American company Texas Instrument in 1969 marked the start of the electronics industry in Singapore.27

By the late 1960s, Singapore was facing new challenges such as a tight labour market and rising wages. There was emerging competition from countries in Europe and Asia. The EDB thus reoriented the focus from labour-intensive industries to training the workforce for capital-intensive and higher-technology industries.28

To meet the skills requirement of the upgraded industries, the EDB initiated overseas industrial training programmes, joint government-industry training centres and local industrial training grants.29 For example, it administered the Skills Development Fund, which supported companies with grants to train and upgrade their staff.30

New EDB offices were also set up in Europe, America and Asia to market Singapore as a business hub that was supported by a highly skilled workforce.31 To assist local companies in achieving growth, the EDB promoted the expansion, upgrading and diversification of local industries.Financing initiatives such as the Capital Assistance Scheme and Product Development Assistance Scheme were introduced.32

During the 1980s, the EDB shifted its focus from skill-based industries to knowledge-based industries and services related to manufacturing, tourism and finance to remain competitive.33 Technological institutions were jointly set up with Japan, Germany and France to meet the specialised manpower needs of high-tech industries.34 Singapore was promoted as an “international total business centre” for the electronics, petrochemical and engineering sectors.35

In 1986, the Small Enterprise Bureau was set up as an operating unit in EDB to focus on development of small and medium-size enterprises (SMEs).36 A multi-agency strategy to stimulate the growth of local enterprises was articulated in the SME Master Plan.37 Initiatives such as the Local Industry Upgrading Programme were introduced to upgrade and modernise local enterprises.38

The demand for sustained and economic growth continued to challenge EDB in the 1980s. To develop very focused activity sectors, Strategic Business Units (SBUs)– such as the International Direct Investment Unit, National Automation Programme and National Biotechnology Programme – were formed in 1988. The units mapped out strategies to enhance the programmes through areas such as manpower, industry, infrastructure development and promotion of corporate and public awareness.39

In 1991, EDB Investments Pte Ltd was established. It has two subsidiaries: EDB Ventures, which is responsible for the venture capital portfolio, and Singapore Bio-Innovations, which focuses on biotechnology-related projects.40

Singapore’s economic landscape became diversified, with a balanced mix of industries and markets producing a wide range of higher-value-added activities.41 Singapore Unlimited is the EDB’s strategic solution to overcome Singapore’s physical limitation and find new ways of economic development by formulating action plans for major clusters. Its “growth triangle” concept strengthened economic cooperation in the region by partnering business and foreign governments to attract investors. Other regionalisation programmes included the development of industrial parks and facilities in China, India and Vietnam.42

The EDB played the role of business architect by helping businesses achieve their needs.43 More multinational corporations were locating their headquarters in Singapore, hence creating demand for supporting business services.44 Recognising the importance of manpower in a knowledge-based economy, the board attracted talent from around the world to augment the local skill pool to become a hub of skilled workers.45

In 1999, as Singapore pushed towards a knowledge-based economy (KBE), the EDB launched its economic blueprint for the 21st century, “Industry 21”. The blueprint spelt out strategic plans for nine industry clusters: electronics, chemicals, life sciences, engineering, education, healthcare, logistics, communications and media, headquarters and business services.46 To develop the local creative industry, the Creative Services Strategic Business Unit was set up.47

2000s to present
Since 2000, innovation, knowledge and research and development have been the focus for Singapore.48 To foster innovation and entrepreneurship, the EDB launched the co-financing scheme, Start-up Enterprise Development Scheme, in 2001 and initiated private-sector engagement and investment.49

The Business Angel Scheme was introduced in 2005 to provide entrepreneurs and techno-preneurs with funding from co-investors and accredited angel investors.50 In the same year, EDB’s Promising Local Enterprises programme, started in 1995, achieved its target of producing 100 “promising local enterprises” each with a turnover of more than S$100 million.51

Efforts were also put into developing the interactive digital media industry and advancing the energy industry with the Energy Innovation Programme Office and the Clean Energy Programme Office. The EDB continues to promote investment and develop the industrial sectors to sustain economic growth for Singapore.52

Sara Pek

1. Economic Development Board Ordinance, 1961, Ord 21 of 1961, 1961 Supplement to the Laws of the State of Singapore, 148. (Call no. RCLOS 348.5957 SIN-[HWE])
2. “What We Do,” Economic Development Board, accessed 16 October 2017.
3. “Global Offices,” Economic Development Board, accessed 16 October 2017.  
4. “The P.A.P. Landslide,” Straits Times, 1 June 1959, 6. (From NewspaperSG)
5. “From Entrepot to a Newly Industrialising Economy,” in Challenge and Response: Thirty Years of the Economic Development Board, ed. Linda Low, et al (Singapore: Times Academic Press, 1993), 33–34. (Call no. RSING 338.95957 CHA)
6. Goh Keng Swee, “Our Economic Policy,” in The Tasks Ahead: P.A.P.’s Five-Year Plan, 1959–1964 (Singapore: Petir, 1959), 19–27. (Call no. RCLOS 329.95957 PEO)
7. United Nations, A Proposed Industrialization Programme for the State of Singapore (Singapore: U.N. Commissioner for Technical Assistance, Dept. of Economic and Social Affairs, 1963). (Call no. RCLOS 338.095951 UNI)
8. Edgar H. Schein, Strategic Pragmatism: the Culture of Singapore's Economic Development Board (Cambridge: MIT Press, 1996), 32. (Call no. RSING 338.95957 SCH)
9. United Nations, Proposed Industrialization Programme”; Schein, Strategic Pragmatism, 31–34.
10. Singapore Industrial Promotion Board Ordinance 1957, Ord 4 of 1957, Government Gazette. Ordinances Supplement, 1–6. (Call no. RCLOS 348.5957SGGAS)
11. “New Board Will Have $100M. For Lending,” Straits Times, 4 April 1961, 5. (From NewspaperSG)
12. Legislative Assembly of Singapore, First Reading of the Economic Development Board Bill, vol. 14 of Debates: Official Report, col. 1427; Legislative Assembly of Singapore, Second Reading of the Economic Development Board Bill, vol. 14 of Debates: Official Report, col. 1516.
13. Legislative Assembly of Singapore, Economic Development Board Bill, 1545.
14. Economic Development Board Ordinance, 1961 Supplement to the Laws of the State of Singapore, 158.
15. “Men Named to Push S’pore Industry Bid,” Straits Times, 17 August 1961, 1. (From NewspaperSG)
16. “Men Named to Push S’pore Industry Bid.”
17. Schein, Strategic Pragmatism, 34, 40–41.
18. Augustine H. H. Tan, “Official Efforts to Attract FDI: The Case of Singapore's Economic Development Board (EDB)” (1999 EWC/KDI Conference on Industrial Globalization in the 21st Century: Impact and Consequences for East Asia and Korea, 2–3 August 1999, 27 August 1999), 1–2.
19. “The Economic Development Board,” in Challenge and Response: Thirty Years of the Economic Development Board, ed. Linda Low, et al. (Singapore: Times Academic Press, 1993), 92. (Call no. RSING 338.95957 CHA)
20. Tan, “Official Efforts to Attract FDI,” 4–5.
21. Schein, Strategic Pragmatism, 39, 62.
22. Economic Development Board, Singapore, Singapore Economic Development Board: Thirty Years of Economic Development (Singapore: Economic Development Board, 1991), 23–24. (Call no. RSING 338.95957 SIN)
23. Schein, Strategic Pragmatism, 46–48.
24. Economic Development Board, Singapore, Singapore Economic Development Board, 27.
25. “Economic Development Board,” 43.
26. Schein, Strategic Pragmatism, 47–48.
27. “Our History: The Seventies,” Economic Development Board Singapore, accessed 10 April 2016; “U.S. Electronics Company Opens $6M S’pore Subsidiary,” Straits Times. 4 July 1969, 14. (From NewspaperSG)
28. Schein, Strategic Pragmatism, 47–48.
29. Tan, “Official Efforts to Attract FDI,”6.
30. Economic Development Board, Singapore, Singapore Economic Development Board, 141.
31. Economic Development Board, Singapore, Singapore Economic Development Board, 32.
32. Economic Development Board, Singapore, Singapore Economic Development Board, 36–40.
33. Schein, Strategic Pragmatism, 49.
34. “Our History: The Eighties,” Economic Development Board, accessed 16 October 2017.  
35. Economic Development Board, Singapore, Singapore Economic Development Board, 49; M. H. Toh, “Partnership with Multinational Corporations,” in Challenge and Response: Thirty Years of the Economic Development Board, ed. Linda Low, et al (Singapore: Times Academic Press, 1993), 141–47. (Call no. RSING 338.95957 CHA)
36. Economic Development Board, Singapore, Singapore Economic Development Board, 51.
37. Economic Development Board, Singapore, SME Committee, Report on Enterprise Development: SME Master Plan (Singapore: Economic Development Board, 1989). (Call no. RSING 338.95957 SIN)
38. Toh, “Local Enterprises and Investment,” Challenge and Response: Thirty Years of the Economic Development Board, ed. Linda Low, et al (Singapore: Times Academic Press, 1993), 203–10. (Call no. RSING 338.95957 CHA)
39. Economic Development Board, Singapore, Singapore Economic Development Board, 52–55.
40. “Economic Development Board,” 99.
41. “Our History: The Nineties,” Economic Development Board, Singapore, accessed 16 October 2017.
42. Economic Development Board, Singapore, Singapore Unlimited (Singapore: Economic Development Board, 1995), 2–3, 16–19, 28–35. (Call no. RSING 338.95957 SIN)
43. Economic Development Board, Singapore, Annual Report 1989/90 (Singapore: Economic Development Board, 1991), 29. (Call no. RCLOS 338.95957 SIN-[AR])
44. Economic Development Board, Singapore, Singapore Unlimited, 20–27.
45. Economic Development Board, Singapore, Our History.”
46. Anna Teo, “KBE Is for Everybody,” Business Times, 31 August 1999, 14. (From NewspaperSG)
47. “Our History,” Economic Development Board, Singapore, accessed 16 October 2017.
48. Economic Development Board, Singapore, “Our History.”
49. Economic Development Board, Singapore, “Our History.”
50. Economic Development Board, Singapore, “Our History.”
51. “Economic Survey of Singapore 2005,” Ministry of Trade and Industry, accessed 16 October 2017, 71.
52. Economic Development Board, Singapore, “Our History.”

Further resources
Chan Chin Bok, et al., Heart Work (Singapore: Economic Development Board and EDB Society, 2002). (Call no. RSING 338.95957 HEA)

Chan Chin Bok, Heart Work 2: EDB & Partners: New Frontiers for the Singapore Economy (Singapore: Straits Times Press, 2011). (Call no. RSING 338.95957 HEA)

The information in this article is valid as at 21 December 2017 and correct as far as we are able to ascertain from our sources. It is not intended to be an exhaustive or complete history of the subject. Please contact the Library for further reading materials on the topic. 

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