[Sponsored Report] Native son of Incheon turns the city around

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[Sponsored Report] Native son of Incheon turns the city around

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Yoo Jeong-bok, mayor of Incheon, during an interview in his office. [INCHEON METROPOLITAN GOVERNMENT]

Incheon Mayor Yoo Jeong-bok is proud to call the port city just west of Seoul his hometown. He was born there, raised there, pursued his dreams there, and his enthusiasm for the city shows no bounds.

In a recent interview about his tenure, Yoo detailed his accomplishments during his three years at the helm of the city’s sixth democratically-elected government and explained the background behind policies he has been pushing. He also elaborated on ongoing projects that he and the government are pursuing for the growth of Incheon.

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Q. What do you think are the biggest accomplishments that you and the Incheon Metropolitan Government have made during your term?

A.
I capitalized on the knowledge and expertise acquired from serving many years in the administrative field to better serve the 3 million citizens of Incheon, so I was able to produce tangible results for the inhabitants of Incheon from what I have set as key priorities. I saw successful results, including reduction of debt, improvement of metropolitan region landfill policies and Incheon’s transportation infrastructure, and the recreation of Incheon city.

Above all, one of the core administrative policies I pushed ahead with and made an improvement in was fiscal consolidation, which was a long-standing issue that would, if unsettled, hinder the city’s future growth. I realized that in order to lay the foundations to transform Incheon from a city of debt into a growth driver of Korea with solid financial integrity, the most important step I needed to take was reduce the size of debt. I executed a three-year plan for fiscal soundness and made progress in achieving the city’s fiscal stability.



Fiscal soundness

Yoo said that when he was elected mayor of Incheon in 2014, the city’s debt had reached 13 trillion won ($11 billion). Incheon was saddled with debt from a sluggish post-financial crisis housing market, heavy spending on the 2014 Asian Games and the development of new areas. The mayor had to begin his term with strong responsibilities laid upon him to settle the Incheon government’s urgent debt issues and boost the regional economy.

Throughout his three-year term, Yoo said he was able to cut the city government’s debt by 2 trillion won, the first time in three years that the deficit shrank. The Incheon Metropolitan Government has been moving fast to make progress in resolving the long-standing debt issue by acquiring support from various institutions, including the central government, striking deals with other provinces and securing sources of tax revenue. Incheon hosted a nationwide sports event and other national projects to take the reputation of Korea one step further, which required active support and cooperation from the central government, and with smooth communication and consultations that the city led, Incheon was able to secure financial support from the central government. However, it did not depend solely on the central government; it was also active in securing finances from every possible source.

With Yoo’s efforts, Incheon’s financial status now seems to be normalizing, and the city is taking advanced steps to create an Incheon welfare model that expands investment in areas directly linked to citizens’ quality of life including social, cultural, athletic and environmental welfare.



Q. What are other core projects that you have concentrated on in your three years? What are other administrative policies that you have proactively enacted, and what are your goals for the remaining year of your term in office?

A.
I focused on landfill deals. Because the Incheon city government agreed to extend the use of its landfill site for the capital and Gyeonggi Province to dump their household waste in return for allowing the extension of landfill site use, Incheon can own the license for the landfill site and the right to collect waste commission fees worth 75 billion won a year. This agreement has contributed to easing the city’s financial burden. I have continued my endeavor to improve the metropolitan region’s landfill policies and the environment surrounding landfill sites.

For the remaining year of my term in office, I am currently pushing for recreating the value of Incheon. Over the past three years, I have focused on enhancing the city’s fiscal soundness and put priority on improving the traffic system. For the rest of my tenure, I’d like to lay a solid foundation for Incheon-centered transportation.

“New Incheon, Happy Citizens” has been my key slogan for recreating the Incheon Metropolitan City with new values. As a part of that effort, we made 168 treasure-laden islands more appealing in hopes that it will bring financial benefit to Incheon. We have also tried to link cultural assets from the early modern era to characterize Incheon as a city with unique historical and cultural heritage.



Incheon-centered transport

The mayor is devoted to accelerating ongoing infrastructure expansion projects like the Incheon-bound GTX lines to drastically improve Incheon’s transit network. The GTX is a high-speed underground rail network that connects Songdo International Business District in Incheon with Cheongnyangni in central Seoul. Other projects of focus include a suspension bridge between Cheongna International City and Yeongjong Island and expansion of Seoul Metro Line No. 7 to Cheongna.

By proceeding with the establishment of a rail network and public transport system with Incheon at the center, Yoo hopes the three million citizens of Incheon and visitors to Incheon will feel the benefits of the city’s solid infrastructure. As transportation facilities centered on Incheon can connect citizens with every corner of the city and beyond, Mayor Yoo desires to make the city an anchor for transportation in the region.

Incheon is also focused on tourism to revitalize its economy. The city has optimal conditions to be a center for tourism and business, including an international airport, seaport, 168 islands and a free economic zone comprising Songdo, Cheongna and Yeongjong. Incheon is making best use of its geopolitical strength to bring visitors to the city and nearby islands.

Incheon has specialized tourism strategies for individual and group visitors from different countries to flexibly respond to changes in the tourism market. With its world-class international airport and seaport, Incheon has come up with creative tourism content to entice passengers in transit to stay for a bit and enjoy what the city has to offer. It is implementing joint marketing by utilizing Incheon’s tourism network, including travel agencies and other related organizations, and there are plans to run a double-decker tour bus for visitors. All of these efforts in areas of service including accommodations and transportation are to ensure a satisfying experience for tourists.



Q. What is your vision for the city of Incheon?

A.
As Incheon has taken bold steps to maximize its unique cultural and historical characteristics and promote the city as a global green city to ultimately enhance the livelihood of citizens and make them feel a stronger identity with the city, Incheon citizens say they can already feel the changes being made and are very proud of this transformation.



Citizen-centered growth

Yoo believes that only with continued interest, encouragement and participation of Incheon’s three million inhabitants and concerted efforts among all public servants of Incheon Metropolitan City, the era of “Great Incheon” can be accomplished. The mayor himself has been constantly trying to form policies and come up with better solutions to fit the demographics and economic situation of Incheon.

Yoo’s dedication to Incheon’s growth is even more meaningful because his parents were displaced by the Korean War and settled in Incheon with the hope of a better future. That has motivated him more to take bold steps to realize his long-held dream of a more perfect Incheon. His ultimate goal is to achieve a “people-centric” administration and open the era of “Great Incheon,” where Incheon will become a competitive city with a strong identity and solid financial stability.

By Lee Chae-won [lee.chaewon1@joongang.co.kr]



Yoo Jeong-bok was elected mayor of Incheon in 2014. He began his political career in 1994 as mayor of Gimpo County in Gyeonggi. At the time, he was Korea’s youngest mayor. The following year, he was elected mayor of Seo District in Incheon.

From 1998 to 2002, Yoo returned to Gimpo, now a city, and served two terms as mayor. From 2010, he served as minister of food and agriculture, and from 2010, he was minister of security and public administration until 2013.

Throughout his career, Yoo has emphasized governance from the citizens’ viewpoint and with citizen-oriented goals. He believes in listening carefully to the voices of citizens and bringing them happiness on behalf of all civil servants.

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