Swiss firm in S$35m vote of confidence for Singapore specialty chemicals sector

The Business Times by ANDREA SOH

SWISS specialty chemical logistics firm Bertschi is investing another S$35 million to build a second facility on Jurong Island - just a year after its first facility opened there.

The group's expansion in Singapore comes amid the government's push to develop the specialty chemicals sector in the Republic and the firm's positive outlook for the Southeast Asia market.

Bertschi said it is enjoying rising demand for its services, having built up a strong sales pipeline since opening its S$45 million facility in January last year.

The privately-owned firm - which offers specialty chemical companies handling and storage services for dangerous goods, isotank storage, blending, drumming and repackaging services - has an annual turnover of 700 million francs (S$985 million) and hires 2,500 employees worldwide.

With the current facility running at 80-90 per cent capacity and a healthy sales pipeline, Bertschi believes the new facility needs to be operational by the fourth quarter of this year - which coincides with the project's expected completion date.

The new facility will expand the group's drumming facilities and add a 25,000 pallet position dangerous goods warehouse.

Bertschi Solutions managing director in Singapore Lieven Vander Elstraeten said the firm had helped fill a pent-up need in the market. "There was a real market demand from the chemical industry to store their dangerous goods (raw materials and finished goods) in the proximity of their respective production plants," he told The Business Times. "Because Bertschi is located on Jurong Island and has built a state of the art facility we are able to store a wide range of toxic, corrosive, flammable cargo. In the past production plants were often struggling to find appropriate professional storage solutions in Singapore."

The latest expansion will raise Bertschi's Singapore headcount to 100, up from the current 75.

Singapore Economic Development Board executive director for the energy and chemicals cluster Damian Chan said: "Bertschi's decision to expand in Singapore so shortly after opening its first facility speaks volumes for the growing demand for specialised logistics services." This, he added, is reflective of Singapore's push to develop the specialty chemicals sector whose manufacturing output has grown annually by 6.1 per cent on average over the past decade.

Specialty chemicals are sold in lower volumes and to a wider range of customers compared to commodity chemicals, and hence typically have higher and more specialised logistical needs.

"To pursue growth areas, we will continue developing Jurong Island's infrastructure and services, such that we remain competitive and provide investors with the confidence to grow their business in Asia," Mr Chan added.

Mr Vander Elstraeten is optimistic about the demand outlook for Bertschi's services.

"Several Jurong Island producers have just completed or have announced debottlenecking projects which will increase demand for our services," he said. "EDB and JTC are working hard to attract specialty chemical production companies to invest on Jurong Island. It is in anticipation of these new projects that we are increasing our capacity today."

The current economic slowdown is temporary in his view. "The South-east Asian middle class will continue to grow, which will result in an increased consumption of the end products made of the specialty chemicals we are handling," he said.