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How Taiwan plans to leap from shoes into software

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Taiwan is hoping to ride on the coattails of giant international companies like IBM into a technology-intensive industrial era.

The bait is the Hsinchu Science-Based Industrial Park, some 60 miles south of Taipei. The emphasis here is on the research and development of new products to change the country's industrial image completely.

Taiwain is to be transformed from a supplier of textiles and shoes to a supplier of computer software and a leader in sciences like biotechnology. This is the island's third stage of postwar economic development.

Alvin H. Tong, Hsinchu's deputy director general, explains: ''We started labor-intensive export processing zones about 17 years ago, and they were very successful in promoting our industrialization, so we could develop capital-intensive industries like steel and petrochemicals in the 1970s.

''But now our wages have gone up so high that we are no longer competitive in labor-intensive industries. The only way is to move into high technology.''

Hsinchu is patterned after the Stanford Industrial Park and North Carolina's Research Triangle Park. Four years in the planning, it finally opened in December 1980. So far, 39 companies have been accepted. Nineteen have moved in.

''But they are really small fry,'' admits Wang Chi-wu, the energetic and voluble director of the National Science Council, sponsor of the park. ''I'm now negotiating to try and lure some big fish from the United States like IBM, Hewlett-Packard, Burroughs, etc.''

The main attraction he feels these companies would find at Hsinchu is a large pool of highly trained but cheap engineering manpower. The park is designed to fill one of Taiwan's most pressing needs: challenging work for the 25,000-plus engineers and scientists emerging annually from schools.


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