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An Asian Nanny State Ups Its Fun Factor

Singapore has long enjoyed a reputation as the cleanest and least corrupt country in Southeast Asia, which may be why multinationals such as GE Energy (GE), Citibank (C), and Pfizer (PFE) have made it their home base in the region. But while it offers the kind of security that corporate planners like, Singapore is also known for being prim and punitive—a place where chewing gum can't be sold and graffiti vandals have been sentenced to a half-dozen strokes of the cane.

Now the city-state is letting its hair down. For the past two years it has closed off streets during the last weekend of September to create a Formula One Grand Prix circuit—with drivers thundering through turns among the skyscrapers. At this year's event, Beyoncé, the Black Eyed Peas, and ZZ Top performed to crowds in a downtown park.

The next attractions: A pair of casinos. The $5.4 billion Marina Bay Sands, built by Las Vegas Sands (LVS), will open in early 2010 with two theaters, a science museum, a mall, and a convention center. The $4.2 billion Resorts World Sentosa, developed by Malaysia's Genting Group, will include six hotels, gambling venues, and a Universal Studios theme park featuring a Shrek-inspired castle.

Why all the fast cars, green felt, and roller coasters? With no natural resources, Singapore has been in a state of constant economic development since it was carved out of Malaysia in 1965. In the 1980s, its companies made a push into semiconductors. In the 1990s, it aimed to be a biotech hub, courting the likes of Novartis (NVS) and Eli Lilly (LLY) to open research labs. Recently it's been focused on wealth management and green technology. Singaporeans have "done quite a good job reinventing themselves and are looking to do that again," says Thomas Arasi, CEO of Marina Bay Sands. The hope: boost tourist arrivals to 17 million people annually, from 10.1 million last year, and double tourism receipts to $21 billion. But in keeping with Singapore's nanny-state image, the government will keep close tabs on the proceedings. To control wagering among locals, it will charge them $72 a day (or $1,440 a year) to get into the casinos. And problem gamblers can be barred from the tables if relatives put their names on a blacklist.

A New Hat Trick for Hockey Players?

Mark Messier can't recall how many concussions he suffered in a 25-year National Hockey League career. But the Hockey Hall of Famer remembers what it felt like to be busted in the noggin. "Numbing, disorienting. A feeling of being totally out of it," says Messier, who retired in 2004.

Now Messier and equipment maker Cascade Sports are peddling a new hockey helmet, the M11. It's designed, they say, with a single purpose: saving brains. A recent study suggests that former National Football League players are diagnosed with dementia at a rate as much as 19 times higher than average. And according to ThinkFirst Canada, a group dedicated to curbing brain injuries, research has found that 10% to 20% of teen hockey players may suffer concussions each season.

So far, Harvard's varsity hockey squad has signed up to wear the $120 M11s, which are equipped with energy-absorbing pads that helped the gear outperform conventional helmets by 26% in Cascade-run tests. But Messier is having a tough time courting NHL players. Just eight, including Chris Phillips of the Ottawa Senators, are wearing the M11 this season. The problem: The helmet has a slightly different appearance than standard models, and "in our sport, crazy as it sounds, looks come first," says Messier. His marketing strategy? Simple, he says. Persuade NHL players that brain health should trump vanity. The hope is that the youth market will follow the pros.

For Low-Birth Nations, a Baby Bump

A birth dearth is bad for business in the industrialized world. It means fewer young consumers and a shortage of workers whose taxes help support pensioners. So it's good news that total fertility rates—roughly defined as average lifetime births per woman—are recovering a bit in low-birth nations such as Britain, Spain, Japan, and Russia.

According to data released on Sept. 14 by the Population Reference Bureau in Washington, D.C., an uptrend that started around 2002 (earlier in some countries) was still going through 2008. Indeed, Taiwan is the only low-birth country whose total fertility rate is still dropping.

Japan offers subsidies and better child care to entice women to have more children. Russia gives mothers with one child $9,000 for each additional baby. Rising confidence in Russia's economy may be another reason for the improved fertility rate, says Population Reference Bureau senior demographer Carl Haub. But Russians still aren't making enough babies to stop the populace from dipping in the long term. The U.S.'s total fertility rate? At 2.1, it's high enough to keep the population from falling even if immigration ceased.


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