Friday, September 17, 2010

Interview: Mr. Oh Byung-don, Mayor of Icheon City

Located in the South-Eastern part of Gyeonggi-do, Icheon has naturally developed good plains and hilly areas of Bokhacheon and Cheongmicheon due to the Namhan River tributary.
The east-west Yeongdong Highway intersects with the center of the north-south highway. It is accessible from all directions by crossing national road 3, that connects from Seoul to Chungju, and national road 42, that connects Suwon with Yeoju, so it has a good base for manufacuting.
Also Icheon has the best quality rice in the world, peaches, which are especially big, white & sweet, soil & fire and traditional ceramic ware which has its own eternal life and the artistic spirit of craftsmen. It is also the original place of ceramic ware of the world's ceramic art, natural hot springs that fly up by the folding screen of Mt. Seolbong and Mt. Dodram and the guardian mountains of Icheon, are combined with high-tech industry, the countryside, tourism and leisure.
In an exclusive interview, Mr. oh Byung-don, Mayor of Icheon City outlines the significance of the place.

>>Icheon City features various cultural colors as well as a long history in all fields that dates back to the prehistoric times. Such fields include the political, economic, social, and cultural areas.
It belonged to Baekje (ancient kingdom located in southwest Korea) in the early three kingdom era. It became a part of Goguryeo (ancient Korean kingdom) in 475 (63rd year of King Jangsu, the 26th king of Goguryeo) and was named Namcheon-hyeon.
King Jinheung, the 24th king of the Shilla Dynasty, placed the monarch in Namcheon-ju (where the provincial government building is located today). In 936, the first emperor of Goryeo entitled the city to Later Baekje Namjeong-si (city) Icheon-gun (county).
In 1444, the 26th year of King Sejong, the city became a dohobu (local administrative body). In 1914, most of Eumjuk-gun was absorbed into Icheon-gun. On March 1, 1996, Icheon-gun was promoted to Icheon-si.
In terms of historical significance, there was a fight over the Han River basin in the three kingdom era and Icheon was at the center of the fight.
Icheon is home to many stone pagodas and stone Buddhas including the Yeongwolam-maaeyeorae-ipsang (standing status). It is a rich repository of Buddhist cultural heritage, including the Maitreya.
Six scholars who left for the countryside after Gimyo sahwa (the calamity of literati) during the Joseon Dynasty, including Kim An-guk, gathered in the area to engage in academic exchange and gave more depth to Joseon's Neo-Confucianism.
>>The vision of Icheon City is to build Icheon, a city of happiness that stands by the side of its citizens. My dream as well as the dream of Icheon citizens is to realize this vision, and to build a planned city with a population of 350 thousand.
I would like to first of all say that I will make strenuous efforts to realize this dream.
First of all, I will do my best in implementing the land development project of Majang District as well as the project involved with building a small new city that will serve as an administrative town in Joongri District. This is a key project that will bring about substantial changes in the history of development of Icheon and for which an administrative process is underway. Strenuous efforts will be made so that these projects result in a luxurious residential space.
Ten small industrial complexes, including an industrial complex in Jinam-ri, Janghowon-eup, were built as a niche strategy that overcomes regulations on metropolitan area natural preservation zones that were introduced by the fourth mayor elected by popular vote. An additional ten small industrial complexes will be built to attract 300 companies, thereby taking the lead in creating jobs and promoting the local economy.
In addition, prestigious, self-governing private high schools will be established to train local experts and the city itself will be redesigned by continually executing high-quality cultural and art activities through the Icheon Art Hall, which is being successfully operated.
>>Located less than an hour away from Seoul, the nation's capital, Icheon is an important traffic center where the Yeongdong Expressway and Jungbu Expressway meet. Icheon is about an hour away from other key cities as well including Gangwon Province and Chungcheong Province.
Thanks to its fertile soil and the developed hills and plains, Icheon offers excellent quality crops, including rice and peach. It is known for its warm-hearted and generous citizens, who unite in times of difficulty.
Icheon is home to such famous mountains as Mt. Seolbong, Mt. Wonjeok, and Mt. Noseong, and is where Cheongmi Stream and Bokha Stream, a tributary of the Namhan River, flow. The city thus has in place excellent conditions for citizens to live in and also good conditions to do business in.
Icheon City is a pleasant green city, where there exists an affluent agricultural life and a comfortable city life based on cutting-edge industries. It is a green city where citizens can enjoy high-quality culture and tourism activities in addition to outstanding specialty products.
>>As a leading city in Korea in terms of the ceramics culture, Icheon is leading trends in modern ceramics and has a rich history in the field of ceramics. It is home to well-known craftsmen such as master artisans, Icheon ceramics masters, and young, leading ceramists of Korea. It is a leading ceramics city in Korea with a complete personnel and material infrastructure such as the Icheon World Ceramic Center and Haegang Ceramics Museum.
Icheon City applied to become a member of UNESCO's Creative Cities Network in the field of crafts in order to widely publicize the city's outstanding cultural assets and to further strengthen its competitiveness. On July 20, it became the first in Korea to become a part of the network.
I believe the designation of Icheon was an extremely significant event that enhanced the city's reputation and the value of the city brand to the global level. It also proves that the cultural assets and competencies of Icheon have gained international recognition.
What is extremely encouraging is that Icheon citizens now feel a greater sense of pride and self-esteem as global cultural citizens.
Considering that UNESCO is a world-renowned organization, I believe people all across the globe will develop an entirely new view of Icheon.
By effectively leveraging Icheon's change in status, I will actively launch PR activities so that Icheon's cultural and tourism industry develops with greater speed.
>>A great number of ceramists moved to Icheon after the middle of the Joseon Dynasty period and gave birth to Korea's ceramics culture. Even now, there is a ceramics village called 'Sagimakgol' in the Saeum-dong area of Icheon.
Icheon has grown into a leader of the nation's ceramics culture. In June 2005, it was designated as a special ceramics district, thus becoming a widely-recognized, leading ceramics city of the nation.
In fact, ceramics is Icheon's indisputable No. 1 brand, so much so that people think of ceramics first when they hear the word Icheon. We are attempting to transform Icheon into a global tourist spot by more systematically and efficiently managing this brand. We are expediting the process of building the Icheon Ceramic Art Village, which involves gathering kilns that are located throughout Icheon to a single area.
In addition to resources that Icheon has had for a long time such as hot springs, ceramics, and specialty products, Icheon is developing cultural and tourism resources by effectively leveraging local conditions. The city is further strengthening the establishment of a cultural and tourism foundation by leveraging its strengths as a city located close to large cities. For example, it is moving forward with the establishment of a Ceramic Art Village, Agricultural Theme Park, Woongjin Children's Village, Baeksa Sansuyu Flower Experience Village, and a tourism complex that connects Mt. Noseong with Seongho Lake.
Icheon is increasing its reputation as a leading cultural city by holding culture and art festivals throughout the year whose themes include the Sansuyu flower, ceramics, peach, and rice, in addition to the International Sculpture Symposium in Icheon and Icheon Chunsafilm Festival. Icheon also houses the Woljeon Museum of Art Icheon and Icheon Art Hall, which further upgraded the cultural life of citizens.
>>What I believe is most important from the perspective of foreigners living in Icheon is the establishment of an environment that allows foreigners to live in harmony with the residents.
In this sense, there is a need for a project that involves joining hands with foreigners to develop policies that are closely related to foreigners' daily lives. Icheon is already implementing such a project through the Multi-cultural Center.
There is also a need for continuous and smooth execution of foreigner support services. For example, there is a need to provide administrative services or handle a wide variety of civil complaints from the perspective of foreigners and to develop multi-language information services.
As mentioned before, Icheon became the first in Korea to become a part of UNESCO's Creative Cities Network. The city will do justice to its reputation and strive to establish an advanced social integration atmosphere between foreigners and Icheon citizens.
Recently you hosted the Icheon Ceramic festival. Could you give us more details of this festival and the outcome?
The Icheon Ceramic Festival was first launched in 1987 and was held for the 24th time this year. It has developed every year, with its cumulative number of visitors exceeding 23 million. It is a leading traditional culture experience festival of Korea.
The whole family can make ceramics and experience the value and beauty of traditional Korean ceramics by taking part in a wide array of experiential, sales, and traveling programs as well as exhibitions. It is also a leading festival of Icheon that has developed into a leading icon that publicizes Korea's ceramics industry and culture throughout the world.
The Icheon Ceramic Festival was originally a part of the Solbong Cultural Festival. It continuously developed after its selection in 1998 as one of the five festivals to receive focused support by the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism. In 2001, the 2001 World Ceramic Expo, the 1st World Ceramic Biennale, was held. It continued to advance forward to generate economic effects totaling 330.1 billion won in 2009, thus fully establishing itself as a leading ceramics culture festival in Korea.
The 24th Icheon Ceramic Festival was held at Seolbong Park in Icheon for 23 days from April 24 through May 16. Based on the theme 'Joyful Ceramic Trip to Icheon', the festival continued its reputation as Korea's leading ceramics festival.
The festival was assessed as providing an arena for experiencing traditional Korean ceramics by combining ceramics experience programs, design exhibitions, and events in addition to featuring a wide variety programs such as an exhibition of high-quality ceramics.
>>Icheon City is implementing various administrative support systems. An example is the creation of a taskforce team together with Gyeonggi Province to attract investments from foreign companies. The team is in charge of attracting foreign capital and is participated in by the Korea Land & Housing Corporation and Korea Electric Power Corporation.
When a foreign company wants to make an investment, Icheon helps the foreign company purchase land such as by designating a foreigner investment area pursuant to the Foreign Investment Promotion Act. It is also providing financial support to partially pay for costs incurred from setting up base facilities such as water facilities and building roads that enable easy access to national highways or subways.
Icheon also offers various tax reduction and exemption benefits such as for taxes related to the acquisition of land, including the acquisition tax, registration tax, and transfer income tax, pursuant to the Foreign Investment Promotion Act and Restriction of Special Taxation Act.
Icheon has various support systems in place, such as providing employment insurance and training subsidies in cash for a certain period when a company hires more than 20 persons based on Gyeonggi Province's investment incentive system. The city is also helping companies set up signs on expressways and national highways.
>>My plan is to focus on attracting cutting-edge business sectors related to electricity and electronics as well as R&D centers and culture and tourism-related industries such as theme parks.
>>Location conditions are an important factor in creating a good environment to do business in, but I believe a more important factor is removing 'invisible barriers' to corporate activities. This is why I set up a department at Icheon City Government to be mainly in charge of corporate support.
Icheon also has the 'public servant-company guardianship system', which involves establishing one-on-one guardian relations between a public servant and a small or mid-sized company in Icheon that has at least five employees and regularly monitoring the company's difficulties.
Difficulties experienced by companies are mostly related to receiving loans to be used as business funds, increasing the number of plants, and building an infrastructure, such as improving access roads. Icheon earmarked a budget of 1.4 billion won to implement corporate environment improvement projects last year such as to improve access roads located near companies. A total of ten projects were executed to improve the environment for 44 companies.
There is also the 'corporate field mobility team', which makes efforts to help companies with an open attitude.
Icheon City is a pleasant green city, where there exists an affluent agricultural life and a comfortable city life based on cutting-edge industries. Icheon is waiting for investors and entrepreneurs.