Market snapshot: Malaysia, gateway to Asia

Kuala Lumpur’s famous Petronas Towers (Ajish R/CC BY-SA 4.0)
Aecom, Vinci and Arcadis have set up in Kuala Lumpur, and other global construction firms might consider following suit, says Datuk Seri Michal Yam FCIOB, a 35-year veteran of construction and real estate who chairs InvestKL, an organisation with a track record of luring big business to Malaysia’s vibrant capital.

Yam, who is senior vice president of the Chartered Institute of Building (CIOB), gave a detailed market overview of the region this week at the inaugural Global Construction Summit organised by the CIOB and Global Construction Review in association with Glodon, PlanRadar and Trimble Viewpoint.

Ten years after InvestKL’s founding, some 160 multinational companies with annual turnovers of $1bn or greater have established bases in Greater Kuala Lumpur, Yam told attendees. Along with well-known global brands, InvestKL has lately targeted “queen bees”, “unicorns” and other types of innovators in the high-tech sector.

Around 50% of these companies come from the US, with France, Germany and UK also strongly represented.

“If we’re keen on them we’ll knock on their door, roll out the red carpet and say what do you need from us to establish a regional headquarters?” Yam said.

Datuk Seri Michal Yam FCIOB, a 35-year veteran of construction and real estate

Top global construction firms set up to serve this robust economy include Aecom, Bechtel and Turner International from the US; Colas, Vinci and Menard from France; and The Netherlands’ Arcadis.

Kuala Lumpur offers companies a gateway to Southeast Asian markets, good logistics and transport infrastructure, skilled and multilingual staff, ease of doing business and affordable living, Yam said.

Yam laid out some caveats for international construction firms eyeing expansion to Malaysia, however. Big local companies have a competitive edge owing to their superior local knowledge. Cultural sensitivities and varying levels of transparency need to be navigated. In addition, the country is behind certain others in adopting modern methods of construction, while up to 90% of construction workers come from other countries.

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