If the government takes appropriate measures, Rajshahi will become a city of entrepreneurs within the next five years as the region is already making progress in human resources development and agro-based industries, said business leaders.
"Rajshahi is renowned as an Education City, and now it is developing to become a city of entrepreneurs. Within the next five years, the educated youths of Rajshahi will stop looking for jobs; rather they will offer jobs to others," said Sultan Mahmud Suman, vice-president of Rajshahi Chamber of Commerce and Industry (RCCI), on Saturday at the webinar titled "Industrialisation and Liveability: Where does Rajshahi stand?"
"Many investors have come to invest in Rajshahi in the last 10 years after witnessing the development of infrastructures including transportation systems here. In the last six months, nearly 300 new entrepreneurs have become our members. They trade in leather, jute, organic food, mustard oil, hand paints, block, batik, beauty parlour, IT sector," said Sultan Mahmud.
The RCCI vice-president said the businesses need the financial institutions' assistance to realise the region's potentials. He also said the tax policy should be made simple and entrepreneur-friendly.
Sultan Mahmud said, "To set up an industry, 17-18 licences are required. Those in the government offices who give these licences should have a more cooperative attitude."
He said several business conglomerates which belong to the locals of Rajshahi have already started investing there as it is the best place for the agro-based industry.
"BSCIC Industrial Estate-2 in Rajshahi is under development. Several big companies including Pran Group, Partex Group, and Square Group are buying land in the adjacent areas," he continued.
Emphasising Rajshahi's potential as a site for developing agro-based businesses, he said, "Rajshahi is the storehouse of grain in the country. Currently, 150 tonnes of fish worth Tk2.5 crore are being supplied daily to areas across the country from this region."
"We have now started contacting the Saarc countries for exporting goods from our region. Recently, the ambassador of Nepal visited the region. We'll also invite the ambassador of Bhutan in near future," said the RCCI vice-president.
Nepal, which is only 37 km away from the border at Rajshahi, is interested in importing fish, meat and egg from the region, he informed.
Shakhawat Liton, deputy executive editor of The Business Standard, moderated the webinar, third of a series planned in connection with the second anniversary of the national business daily.
Rozety Naznin, president of Rajshahi Women Chamber of Commerce, said both men and women in Rajshahi are trying to become entrepreneurs. Many women are working from home, while many others are setting up businesses like construction firms, jute mills, cold storage.
She said, "Currently women are facing challenges in marketing various products including the handicrafts they produce. We appeal to the city mayor to create a separate market for women entrepreneurs in Rajshahi."
Rozety Naznin said the entrepreneurs' work is further facilitated if the Women's Chamber has good communication and coordination with the local chambers.
"We will make a proposal to the Federation of Bangladesh Chambers of Commerce and Industries (FBCCI) for allotting posts to the district level women's chamber presidents in that organisation," she added.
Khairul Alam, chief executive of software company Fleet Bangladesh, said, "I want to see Rajshahi develop just like Silicon Valley. Currently, 550 people are working in my organisation. They studied in local colleges and educational institutions including Rajshahi University."
He said around 20-25 of his former employees have already started their businesses on their own.
"Since there are many educational institutions in Rajshahi, students from different parts of the country come here to study. They want to work so they can easily join the IT sector," said Khairul Alam.
He felt that Rajshahi's local authorities should set up a "one-stop service centre," where the entrepreneurs can get all the services they need to start a company.
"I have a business in California, where all the services needed for setting it up were available in one place. Such a facility is needed in Rajshahi. If that happens, it wouldn't take more than five years to make Rajshahi another Silicon Valley," he added.
Dr Mizanur Rahman, professor of geography and environment at the Rajshahi University, said Rajshahi is better than other cities in Bangladesh on various counts like transportation and pollution. But the rising presence of heavy metals in soil is a concern now, he pointed out.
"Rajshahi needs an integrated sustainable plan. We must prepare it taking into consideration how many employment opportunities will be created in the next 10 to 20 years and how many people will be needed in which sectors."
"We also have to consider what kind of infrastructure including educational, medical, and housing facilities will be needed. At the same time we have to keep in mind that the environment cannot be harmed," he continued.