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Bangladesh built a tech park for 100,000 workers. Now it’s a ghost town

FAISAL MAHMUD
ZUHA SIDDIQUI
  21 Apr 2024, 22:12

When Bangladesh inaugurated its first technology business park — a sprawling campus for tech companies to set up offices and factories — in 2015, local computer manufacturer DataSoft swiftly seized the opportunity, becoming one of the first occupants.

The Bangabandhu Hi-Tech City — a 355-acre facility — is located in Kaliakair, a small town on the outskirts of capital Dhaka. Built with partial funding from the World Bank, the tech park was touted as Bangladesh’s “cyber capital,” which would house 100,000 workers by 2025.

In 2016, DataSoft set up a factory making affordable laptops at the Bangabandhu tech park. The company also planned to bring together a research and development team at the factory for its future projects. 

But nearly a decade later, DataSoft has hired only three full-time workers at the Bangabandhu factory. The plans for a dedicated research and development team never took off, as none of the company’s engineers wanted to move from Dhaka to Kaliakair; the few who made the move did not last long.

“We were in the middle of nowhere,” Golam Kibria Papel, a DataSoft software engineer who moved to Kaliakair with a team of 10 in 2017, told Rest of World. “The nearest bazaar was a 10-minute rickshaw ride away, and one of my colleagues thought the place was haunted.” Papel worked at the Kaliakair facility for just two weeks before seeking a transfer back to the company’s Dhaka office.

Like DataSoft, several other companies that had pledged investments in Bangabandhu Hi-Tech City dropped their plans due to a lack of infrastructure around the campus and bureaucratic red tape. The tech park, which boasts state-of-the-art infrastructure, now lies deserted. Its mostly vacant buildings are decaying from the outside, and covered with cobwebs and grime on the inside. Only 5,000 workers arrive each day to do low-level jobs such as assembly-line work and data entry. 

Bangladesh launched its first tech park, Bangabandhu Hi-Tech City, on the outskirts of Dhaka in 2015.


Four former engineers at Bangabandhu told Rest of World the project failed to take off partly because the government never delivered on its promise of a high-speed train service between Kaliakair and Dhaka.

“Large buildings [are] primary steps of establishing a high-tech park but to make it a success like [Bengaluru in India], you have to build a whole ecosystem,” Russell T. Ahmed, president of the Bangladesh Association of Software and Information Services, told Rest of World. “It has to be a high-tech town.”

Bangladesh’s minister of state for information technology, Zunaid Ahmed Palak, had said the Bangabandhu tech park would create jobs, and lead to an eventual increase in foreign investment. He did not respond to Rest of World’s requests for comment on the current state of Bangabandhu.

Bangladesh launched its first tech park, Bangabandhu Hi-Tech City, on the outskirts of Dhaka in 2015.


“We have to keep in mind that high-tech parks are still a very new concept in Bangladesh. It will take time,” GSM Jafarullah, managing director of the Bangladesh Hi-Tech Park Authority, a government agency that oversees and manages tech parks across the country, told Rest of World. He said the Bangabandhu facility was running “quite well,” with 87 local and foreign companies manufacturing and assembling mobile phones, ATMs, and other IT devices.

The construction of Bangabandhu was partly financed by a $120 million loan from the World Bank, signed in 2011. Summit Technopolis, the real estate arm of Bangladeshi conglomerate Summit Group, invested $208 million in the project. In 2019, the Bangladesh government allocated another $31 million for setting up an extension of the existing park.

According to a $31 million published on Summit Technopolis’ website in February 2016, the company planned to occupy two blocks at Bangabandhu, spanning 91 acres of land and generating 70,000 jobs. Though Summit has an office in the tech park, Rest of World was not able to verify if its plans had progressed as the company did not respond to requests for comment.

Rest of World found three companies that had signed agreements with Summit Technopolis between 2019 and 2020 — each promised investments worth millions of dollars into the tech park. None of these agreements have so far materialized, according to the companies.

Summit Technopolis is one of only a few companies with functioning operations in the park.


Mizanur Rahman, general manager of 3S Group — which had agreed to spend $12 million to set up a tech-device manufacturing and assembly facility in Bangabandhu — told Rest of World the project is “yet to be implemented” and was stalled due to a “prolonged dollar crisis.”

Rahman said he has never visited the tech park.

Oryx Biotech, a company that had earmarked an investment of $300 million to set up a 25-acre plasma fractionation plant in Bangabandhu in 2020, told Rest of World construction hasn’t started because “government offices were closed for a long time.”

Nefiz Ahmed, head of business administration at SydneySun, a surveillance business solutions company that set up an assembly plant at Bangabandhu, told Rest of World the tech park “has seen a lot of development in the last five years,” but came with many problems, particularly bureaucratic red tape. “If we get an environmental clearance for our construction, we need to go to the government’s Department of Environment,” Ahmed said.

He also faces the challenge of convincing engineers to commute to the tech park. “[Engineers] usually do brain work and it’s not easy to make them spend three to four hours on the road,” said Ahmed.

Summit Technopolis is one of only a few companies with functioning operations in the park.


Entrepreneurs who did not move to Kaliakair back when the tech park was being lauded and advertised by the government told Rest of World they are relieved. 

In 2013, Syed Almas Kabir, managing director of Metronet Bangladesh, considered moving his operations to Bangabandhu after attending a “promising” government-organized roadshow. “Back then, the internet was a bit shoddy in Dhaka, and the prospect of getting the best high-speed internet alone was a great prospect in Kaliakair,” he said. 

But he’s glad that he decided against moving to the tech park. “Those who shifted there or made investments in the park are not at all happy about it,” Kabir said. “Some of them are even rueing their decisions.” 

“Those who shifted there or made investments in the park are not at all happy about it.”

Bangabandhu Hi-Tech City is one of the only two fully constructed high-tech parks that the Bangladesh government has set up outside Dhaka. Progress at the other park has also been sluggish.

In 2017, the government inaugurated the Sheikh Hasina Software Technology Park — labeled the “Silicon Valley of Bangladesh” by state IT minister Palak — in Jashore, a city close to the country’s southern border with India. Around 20,000 people were meant to work at the tech park; today, only 1,600 do.

Later that year, the government organized a grand job fair at the Jashore tech park to hire an IT workforce for 30 companies that had expressed interest in setting up their offices in the 15-story building. According to local media, the drive resulted in zero employment. Rest of World found that the majority of the current workers at the Jashore facility are call center employees for leading Bangladeshi startups, including e-commerce company Chaldal, business process outsourcing company Digicon, and household services marketplace ShebaXYZ.

Chaldal’s engineers “prefer Dhaka’s facilities,” the company’s co-founder, Zia Ashraf, told Rest of World. He said the company’s Jashore office houses only 500 call center workers, mostly hired locally from the area.

Summit Technopolis is one of only a few companies with functioning operations in the park.


“Senior engineers are still very scarce for most of the companies there,” Adnan Imtiaz Halim, CEO and co-founder of ShebaXYZ, told Rest of World. “Highly skilled engineers are still needed for complex tasks like database management. These positions require attracting talent from Dhaka with competitive salaries.”

Despite the difficulty in attracting workers to the tech parks outside Dhaka, Bangladesh has continued to seek investment for the industry’s growth.

In 2021, the World Bank gave Bangladesh another loan — $555 million — for a project geared towards promoting “private investment, job creation, and environmental sustainability in participating economic zones and software technology parks in Bangladesh.” Due to “large infrastructure development, completion timelines vary across components” for tech parks, Hosna Ferdous Sumi, task team leader at the World Bank’s project for private investment and digital entrepreneurship in Bangladesh — set to end in 2025 — told Rest of World. Construction is underway for a software technology park in Dhaka, which would help promote investment and create job opportunities, she said.

Courtesy: restoftheworld.org

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Bangladesh built a tech park for 100,000 workers. Now it’s a ghost town

FAISAL MAHMUD
ZUHA SIDDIQUI
  21 Apr 2024, 22:12

When Bangladesh inaugurated its first technology business park — a sprawling campus for tech companies to set up offices and factories — in 2015, local computer manufacturer DataSoft swiftly seized the opportunity, becoming one of the first occupants.

The Bangabandhu Hi-Tech City — a 355-acre facility — is located in Kaliakair, a small town on the outskirts of capital Dhaka. Built with partial funding from the World Bank, the tech park was touted as Bangladesh’s “cyber capital,” which would house 100,000 workers by 2025.

In 2016, DataSoft set up a factory making affordable laptops at the Bangabandhu tech park. The company also planned to bring together a research and development team at the factory for its future projects. 

But nearly a decade later, DataSoft has hired only three full-time workers at the Bangabandhu factory. The plans for a dedicated research and development team never took off, as none of the company’s engineers wanted to move from Dhaka to Kaliakair; the few who made the move did not last long.

“We were in the middle of nowhere,” Golam Kibria Papel, a DataSoft software engineer who moved to Kaliakair with a team of 10 in 2017, told Rest of World. “The nearest bazaar was a 10-minute rickshaw ride away, and one of my colleagues thought the place was haunted.” Papel worked at the Kaliakair facility for just two weeks before seeking a transfer back to the company’s Dhaka office.

Like DataSoft, several other companies that had pledged investments in Bangabandhu Hi-Tech City dropped their plans due to a lack of infrastructure around the campus and bureaucratic red tape. The tech park, which boasts state-of-the-art infrastructure, now lies deserted. Its mostly vacant buildings are decaying from the outside, and covered with cobwebs and grime on the inside. Only 5,000 workers arrive each day to do low-level jobs such as assembly-line work and data entry. 

Bangladesh launched its first tech park, Bangabandhu Hi-Tech City, on the outskirts of Dhaka in 2015.


Four former engineers at Bangabandhu told Rest of World the project failed to take off partly because the government never delivered on its promise of a high-speed train service between Kaliakair and Dhaka.

“Large buildings [are] primary steps of establishing a high-tech park but to make it a success like [Bengaluru in India], you have to build a whole ecosystem,” Russell T. Ahmed, president of the Bangladesh Association of Software and Information Services, told Rest of World. “It has to be a high-tech town.”

Bangladesh’s minister of state for information technology, Zunaid Ahmed Palak, had said the Bangabandhu tech park would create jobs, and lead to an eventual increase in foreign investment. He did not respond to Rest of World’s requests for comment on the current state of Bangabandhu.