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Singapore’s Semiconductor Success: Beating Global Giants in the Chip Manufacturing Race

Singapore’s Semiconductor Success: Beating Global Giants in the Chip Manufacturing Race

In mid-September, the world’s third-largest contract chip manufacturer, GlobalFoundries, unveiled its new 23,000 square meter plant. What’s surprising is not the facility’s existence, but its location. It’s not in the United States, which is offering a whopping $52 billion in subsidies for domestic chip manufacturing. It’s not in Japan or Germany, both of which have similar industrial policies. It’s not even in Taiwan, home to some of the world’s most advanced chip plants. Instead, this new semiconductor manufacturing plant opened its doors in Singapore’s Semiconductor Success, a small, highly developed Southeast Asian nation with a population of just under six million.

Table Of Contents:

  • Singapore’s Semiconductor Success
  • Semiconductor Industry Investments in Singapore
  • The Singapore Advantage
    1. Skilled Workforce and Ecosystem
    2. Strong Government Support
    3. A History of Chipmaking
    4. A Mature Ecosystem
  • The Challenges of Attracting Semiconductor Manufacturing
  • Singapore’s Bright Outlook
  • Commitment to Long-Term Growth
  • Conclusion

Singapore’s Semiconductor Success

The move by GlobalFoundries is just one example of Singapore’s remarkable success in attracting semiconductor manufacturing. Many major economies are striving to secure domestic chip manufacturing, but Singapore, while unable to match the budgetary firepower of some larger nations, boasts something even more valuable: a consistent strategy for manufacturing and a mature ecosystem for semiconductors.

Semiconductor Industry Investments in Singapore

Singapore attracted $8.6 billion and $16.4 billion in fixed asset investments for 2021 and 2022, respectively, according to the country’s Economic Development Board (EDB), a government agency focused on enhancing Singapore’s global attractiveness for business. A substantial portion of these commitments was driven by the electronics and semiconductor industries, the EDB reported.

The Singapore Advantage

What sets Singapore apart in the global race for semiconductor manufacturing? The answer lies in a combination of factors that have allowed this small nation to punch above its weight in the industry.

1. Skilled Workforce and Ecosystem

Singapore’s advantage starts with its people. The country has invested heavily in education and workforce development. This has resulted in a well-trained, highly skilled workforce, crucial in an industry that demands precision and expertise. The country also boasts a mature semiconductor ecosystem that includes supporting industries, research institutions, and infrastructure, all of which create a favorable environment for semiconductor manufacturers.

Rakesh Kumar, a professor in electrical and computer engineering at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, emphasizes the significance of this advantage, stating, “Singapore has this advantage of having a well-trained workforce, as well as a good supporting ecosystem. These are very significant advantages.”

2. Strong Government Support

The Singaporean government has played a pivotal role in attracting semiconductor manufacturers to the country. It provides a stable and business-friendly environment, essential for long-term investments in manufacturing. Singapore’s comprehensive infrastructure supports semiconductor manufacturing, and its strong intellectual property (IP) protection ensures that innovations are safeguarded. Furthermore, the government’s support extends to providing incentives, grants, and regulatory assistance, creating a welcoming environment for semiconductor companies.

Tan Yew Kong, senior vice president and general manager at GlobalFoundries Singapore, underscores the government’s role, stating that Singapore has “a stable government, business-friendly environment, and comprehensive infrastructure required for semiconductor manufacturing, coupled with strong IP protection and a world-class education system.”

3. A History of Chipmaking

Singapore’s history in the semiconductor industry dates back to 1968 when the U.S. microelectronics firm National Semiconductor Company established operations at an EDB facility. This marked the beginning of a wave of Western companies setting up operations in Singapore, including Texas Instruments, Siemens, and Infineon. While other economies, such as South Korea and Taiwan, were building their own chip industries, Singapore started to expand into design and wafer fabrication.

This history gives Singapore a significant advantage. A company can save between 10% to 15% of costs when building a new facility near an existing fab. Peter Hanbury, a partner at the consultancy Bain & Co, suggests that Singapore’s pool of highly educated talent makes it an attractive location for semiconductor manufacturing.

4. A Mature Ecosystem

Singapore has not only attracted chip manufacturers but also companies across the semiconductor ecosystem, including chip designers, manufacturers, packaging and testing firms, and equipment suppliers. This ecosystem is vital for semiconductor companies, as having a network of similar businesses fosters collaboration and innovation.

For example, chip designer AMD announced in September 2022 that it was investing more than $50 million to expand its R&D footprint in Singapore. Soitec, a French semiconductor materials supplier, initiated a $424 million extension of its plant in December of the same year. Ardentec, a provider of semiconductor test services, began work on its new $182 million test facility that same month.

Chitung Liu, UMC’s chief financial officer, highlights the importance of a thriving ecosystem. “The ecosystem is a must. You need to have other similar semiconductor companies,” he says.

The Challenges of Attracting Semiconductor Manufacturing

Singapore’s success in attracting semiconductor manufacturing offers valuable lessons to other countries, particularly those hoping to enter the chip industry. One key takeaway is that subsidies alone are not enough to lure semiconductor companies. The economies that have succeeded in attracting manufacturing investments often have an existing presence in chip supply chains. Economies that are starting from scratch face significant challenges.

Peter Hanbury points out that “spinning things up from the ground is hard.” He cites India as an example, noting that despite offering substantial subsidies, the country has not yet succeeded in attracting advanced chip manufacturing. India announced a $10 billion incentive plan in late 2021 to encourage chip manufacturing and become a key player in the global semiconductor supply chain.

Even well-developed economies like the United States are grappling with challenges in bringing semiconductor manufacturing back. Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company (TSMC), a global leader in chip manufacturing, faces delays in its Arizona plant due to a lack of local expertise, higher labor costs, and profit-sharing conditions from the U.S. While the U.S. made about a third of the world’s chips in 1990, that share has decreased to about 12% today.

Singapore’s Bright Outlook

Singapore’s consistent presence in the semiconductor industry, coupled with its ecosystem and supportive government policies, has positioned it as a prime destination for semiconductor manufacturing. While several new chip facilities are coming online at a time when the market for mature chips is in a slump, the government and the EDB remain confident in the sector’s long-term growth prospects. The semiconductor sector contributes about 7% of Singapore’s GDP, and the government plans to invest more in the industry.

The country is committing $18 billion between 2021 and 2025 to support research and development (R&D) and innovation. But Singapore’s support goes beyond financial incentives. According to Chitung Liu, UMC’s competitors are receiving 50% more money in Japan, yet Singapore’s assistance with working visas and regulatory issues has significantly enhanced project efficiency.

As investments in semiconductor manufacturing continue to flow into Singapore, there’s a strong belief in the sector’s bright future. The recent $5 billion expansion plan is just the first phase, with expectations of a second phase in the future.


In conclusion, Singapore’s remarkable success in attracting semiconductor manufacturing, despite its small size compared to global giants, can be attributed to a combination of factors. A skilled workforce, a mature semiconductor ecosystem, strong government support, and a history in chipmaking all contribute to its appeal. As other countries strive to enter the semiconductor industry, Singapore’s experience offers valuable lessons, emphasizing that expertise and ecosystem are often more valuable than financial incentives.

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