Expanding into Asia-Pacific while keeping costs low can be challenging for businesses. Attracting talent is another concern. Singapore-listed electrical and furniture retailer Courts Asia found a solution just across the border. Last year, it set up the Courts Solutions Centre in Iskandar Puteri, in the burgeoning Iskandar district of Johor, Malaysia. The regional shared service centre supports the company’s portfolio analysis and credit operations.

Courts Asia is one of 14 companies to benefit from the GBS (Global Business Services) Iskandar programme. Launched in 2016, GBS Iskandar aids companies in establishing or expanding their GBS operations — i.e. shared services such as finance, human resources, IT and customer support — to the Iskandar district so they can take advantage of lower overheads and draw from the local talent pool. The programme is managed by i2M Ventures, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Khazanah Nasional — the strategic investment fund of the government of Malaysia. Other companies that have made the move include consulting firm Frost & Sullivan, outsourcing and tech services provider Aegis and professional services firm KPMG.

Iskandar Malaysia serves as a regional gateway for companies that want to be cost-efficient, says Zulfiqar Zainuddin, managing director of i2M Ventures. The district is more than a “real-estate play”, he says. Its development is in line with the government’s strategic focus on GBS as a pillar of growth. In the 11th Malaysia Plan (2016 to 2020), GBS is identified as a key sector that will add high-value jobs to the economy. GBS Iskandar aims to generate RM6.5 billion in investments and create 14,000 high-value jobs by 2020.

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