Korea Inc. abandons Sejong

‘세종시 수정안 격돌’ 정치권도 무대책

May 20,2011
A resident looks on as construction moves forward on Sejong City, in Yeongi County, South Chungcheong. By Kim Seong-tae

Korea Inc. is walking away from Sejong City, taking with it trillions of won in investments and tens of thousands of jobs.

“Large companies are leaving one by one, so are construction companies,” said Kim Yong-yeon, 61, a resident in Yeongi County, South Chungcheong. “I don’t know what is going to happen to Sejong City.”

Seven of 10 private builders have picked up and left Sejong City, walking away from roughly 50 billion won ($46 million) in deposits.

This isn’t necessarily a surprise. In October 2010, the state-run Korea Land and Housing Corp. tried to sell land to construction companies for the creation of 14,800 apartment units. No one was interested.

It was the second round of land sales since the first round was held in 2007. And most construction companies that purchased land in the first round are now long gone.

Sejong City has been in disarray since June 2010, when the National Assembly rejected an amendment to turn the city into a science and business center by attracting private sector investment, instead of relocating government institutions there.

On board were Samsung, Hanwha, Woongjin, Lotte and the Austria-based solar-cell company SSF. They promised to build research-and-development centers and factories. The four Korean companies said they would put up 4.38 trillion won and create 22,000 jobs. The government pledged to provide land at a discounted price and three-year corporate and income tax exemptions.

Now those companies have recommitted that cash to other parts of the country. Samsung initially intended to build a battery factory in Sejong City, but later decided to go to the Saemangeum area on the west coast. Hanwha turned to Daejeon for arms research and Yeosu for solar cell production. And Austria-based SSF’s promise to invest 138 billion won in a new solar cell plant fell through. “Since we were in competition with many global companies in businesses including solar cells, we had to find alternatives fast,” a company official said.

Opposition in the National Assembly was intense, despite the fact that President Lee Myung-bak’s plan for a research and development hub was almost the same as the cost of relocating government ministries there - 8.5 trillion won.

The amendment was voted down in the National Assembly in June 2010. The opposition insisted the government keep its promise to create an administrative capital.

Out are 23,000 private-sector jobs, and in are 13,000 bureaucrats working for government institutions.

Sejong City faces another demographic challenge. In a survey of public servants by the Ministry of Public Administration and Security, 35.4 percent answered that they would go to Sejong City alone, leaving their families for weekend visits.

Construction companies were fast to recognize the possibility of lower demand in a city made up of bureaucrats.

“There would not be enough buyers [for apartment units], and [builders] just decided to give up their deposit rather than being stuck with unsold apartments on hand that no one wants,” said a construction company official, requesting anonymity. His company stands to lose 6 billion won in deposits, but if it were to go ahead with construction, the losses would be even higher, he said.

The Korea Land and Housing Corp. has the intent to resell the land that construction companies effectively abandoned to other construction companies. “But unless the price of land is reduced, there will be few bidders,” the official said.

Critics say the plan to make Sejong City Korea’s administrative district was flawed from the beginning. It was a campaign pledge by former President Roh Moo-hyun.

“The pledge has an effect of disuniting the public rather than uniting them,” said Lim Suhng-bin, a public administration professor at Myongji University.

“For the sake of public interest, there is a need to keep unrealistic campaign pledges out of major elections,” said Yun Chang-hyun, a business administration professor at the University of Seoul. “We learned a lesson from Sejong; it is a process of a maturing democratic society,” Yun said.

By Kim Bang-hyun, Limb Jae-un [jbiz91@joongang.co.kr]

한글 관련 기사 [연합]
‘세종시 수정안 격돌’ 정치권도 무대책

유일한 외국투자기업 SSF, 아예 연락 끊어
원안이든, 수정안이든 세종시의 청사진은 마찬가지였다. ‘인구 50만 명의 자족도시’였다. 생산과 소비가 함께 일어나는 중대형 도시를 만든다는 것이었다. 그러나 현실은 이와 엇가고 있다.

 하지만 정치권은 비틀거리는 세종시에 눈길을 주지 않고 있다. 수정안과 원안을 놓고 서로 “이게 세종시를 위하는 길”이라며 고함과 삿대질까지 서슴지 않았던 게 언제 적 일이었냐는 듯하다.

수정안에 찬성했던 의원들은 “수정안이 부결되면서 예견됐던 일인데 어찌하랴”는 입장이고, 원안 고수론자들은 “다소 혼선이 있지만 곧 제 궤도를 찾아갈 것”이라고 하고 있다.

 김기현(울산 남구을) 한나라당 의원은 “행정 중심으로는 자족도시가 될 수 없어 기업을 유치해 사람들이 모이게 하자고 수정안을 낸 것인데 부결되고 말았다”고 지적했다. 그는 “지금 문제를 보완하겠다고 충청권에 국책 사업을 유치하는 것은 다른 지역과의 형평에 맞지 않다”며 “세종시는 부족한 대로 가는 수밖에 없다”고 덧붙였다.

 수정안에 반대했던 최규성(전북 완주) 민주당 의원은 “수정안의 문제는 땅을 싸게, 즉 기업에 특혜를 주려 한 것”이라고 말했다. 그는 “세종시의 위치가 좋기 때문에 정부 기관이 가면 자연스레 기업들이 따라올 것이어서 국회 차원에서 대응방안을 논의할 필요가 없다”고 주장했다.

 일부 “세종시를 살리자”는 목소리도 있기는 하다. 수정안 반대론자이지만 김재윤(제주 서귀포) 민주당 의원은 “세종시 투자 기업에 인센티브를 줘야 한다” 며 “다른 지역과의 형평성 문제가 신경 쓰이겠지만 정부가 세종시를 활성화하겠다는 의지를 갖고 기업들을 지원해야 한다”고 말했다.

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