Sheikh Hasina Software & Technology Park in Jashore, launched three years ago aiming to develop ICT industry and entrepreneurs and create employment in the south-western region, is now struggling to stay on track amid a severe lack of investment.
Except for some local small businesses, no prominent companies have invested in the park while the dormitory or housing facility built at a huge cost is empty too.
One of the purposes of the park was to produce and export software. Job seekers had dreamt that local and foreign companies would invest here and employment would be created.
Before its launch, State Minister for Information and Communication Technology Zunaid Ahmed Palak told the media that the park would be the dream workplace for educated unemployed youth.
However, the park could not come close to meeting the employment target. Around 1,400 people now work here while at the time of its establishment, it was said 5,000 workers would get jobs.
Most of the current investors in the park work in training, digital marketing, call centre management and graphics designing. There are only six companies that make software – Micro Dream IT, TechnoSoft Bangladesh, SoftX Technology, Destiny INC Dot, Semicolon IT and Ongsho International Ltd.
"The park did not flourish as expected because no big organisations have come here. We encourage big organisations to invest here," said Hosne Ara Begum, managing director of Bangladesh Hi-Tech Park Authority (BHTPA), adding that investors in the software park have different demands including rent and electricity bill waiver. Not all the demands are just.
According to park authorities, so far, there has been an investment worth Tk60 crore in the park. Techcity Bangladesh, the private company in charge of managing the park, said 50 companies had been allocated space there. Of these, 32 are in operation.
Of the main 15-story building of the park, 1.37 lakh square feet space is leasable. About 95,000 square feet have been leased to various organisations. Three companies have taken about 10,000 square feet of space on lease but they do not use it. So, 38% of the total space is still vacant.
Sources said there is no foreign investment in the park. Destiny INC Dot is mentioned as a Japanese investor. The owner of the company is a Bangladeshi expatriate from Japan.
Former vice-chancellor of Jashore University of Science and Technology Abdus Sattar is the owner of an organisation called N Solution in the software park.
He said he thought foreign companies would invest here and he would learn from them but nothing happened like that. Now he is worried about the future of his organisation.
In three years, 17 companies have left. Several organisations, including Apon Freedom and Water Speed, said they could not live up to their expectations. One of the major problems is the lack of skilled manpower. Investors also talk about various problems including lease dispute, improved internet and lack of electricity service.
Investors say the government's short-term training does not produce skilled workers. In 2017, a job fair was organised in the Park. Huge applications were received from job seekers but manpower was not created.
The then project director of the park and the present Joint Secretary Md Jahangir Alam (currently working in the Ministry of Expatriate Welfare), said a lot of young people responded but since it was for IT, not all applications were received.
Techcity Bangladesh has been given the responsibility for 15 years for managing the park. Investors have many complaints about them. One is the lease price. From different organisations, the lease price varies from Tk18-Tk22.
According to the source, the rent of others except the six is due for more than four months.
However, those who took the lease from the high-tech park authorities, the rent was Tk14 per square foot.
"We have to pay more rent than others. The leaseholder company claims that our contract is for two years while the term of the contract with the BHTPA was for two years. The authorities have been informed about these issues but no reply has been received so far," said Rakibur Rahman, owner of Mylighthost.
Md Wahidur Rahman, managing director of Techcity Bangladesh, said there is a big difference between the reality and what we thought before the agreement. The cost of managing such a large infrastructure is huge. The government fixed the rent there without calculating much.
Many investors are not paying rent. Various companies owe at least Tk70 lakh in rent, he added.
With a capacity to accommodate 140 people, the dormitory at the park is of three-star standard. There are 90 rooms including 12 VIP suite rooms, 36 family deluxe rooms and 30 2-bed rooms. The rent for staying in a VIP room is Tk7,600 per night and the rent for the other two types of rooms is Tk3,800. However, the rent for a company investing in the park is Tk800.
It was said that domestic and foreign investors, buyers and workers would stay in the dormitory, 60-70 guests per month on average. Most of the rooms remain empty.
On 10 December 2017, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina inaugurated the Software Technology Park in Jashore built at a cost of Tk305 crore on 12 acres of land at Nazir Shankarpur.