Johor Baru in the early 1990s. For the past three decades, the city has attracted people and investors, and being close to Singapore played a big part in this influx.

JOHOR received the highest amount of investments compared with other states in Malaysia last year, surpassing Penang and Sarawak.

The state grossed RM21.1 billion in foreign and domestic investments last year, surpassing the RM14.4 billion worth of investments it received the previous year. The trend continued when Johor attracted RM27 billion worth of investments in the first six months of this year.

Menteri Besar Datuk Seri Mohamed Khaled Nordin mentioned these impressive numbers at the launch of a South Korean and Japanese joint-venture factory, Lotte Ube Synthetic Rubber Sdn Bhd, in Tanjung Langsat last month. Khaled said the numbers could only bring better things for the southern state.

“This indicates that Johor is no longer the sleeping giant it used to be. This state will soon become the leading investment hub in the region,” said Khaled.

Strong interest in Iskandar Malaysia in south Johor is a factor in attracting investors into the state. Even though industrial zones exist in Batu Pahat, Muar, Kluang and Segamat, Iskandar Malaysia — comprising Johor Baru, Pasir Gudang, Nusajaya, Senai-Skudai and part of Gelang Patah — is the major pull for investors and the people to seek opportunities in the state.

For the past three decades, Johor Baru has attracted people and investors, and being close to Singapore gives it a strategic economic advantage. The working-class can earn high pay cheques across the Causeway while living comfortably and spending their hard-earned money in Johor.

Khaled’s analogy of a sleeping giant probably has something to do with how a typical Johorean feels about his home state.

His statement is both an observation and a critique of the current state of Johor’s economy.

Looking back at history, growth was slow for many decades before Iskandar Malaysia came into the picture. Johor Baru (or Iskandar Puteri, as it was previously called) was a fishing village founded by Temenggong Daeng Ibrahim.

It was declared the state administrative centre by his son, Sultan Abu Bakar, in 1841 to replace the previous administrative centre in Teluk Belanga, Singapore.

Growth had been moderate between World War 1 and World War 2, but things picked up when industries sprouted in the outskirts of Johor Baru from the 1970s to 1990s.

This led to the expansion of new areas, such as Tebrau, Tampoi and Senai, which eventually became the location of an airport in 1974.

From the late 1980s to early 1990s, life was good in Johor Baru as the influx of people meant there were more social activities.

As a child growing up in Johor Baru, Kompleks Tun Abdul Razak (Komtar), Holiday Plaza and Plaza Pelangi were the places to go for food, shopping and entertainment.

The state capital was a border town with a sprinkling of industrial areas, and many could see its potential to rival the Klang Valley, Penang and Ipoh.

By the time Johor Baru was declared a city in 1994, its development had expanded northwards to Skudai and Kulai, and eastwards to the heavy industrial centre and port town of Pasir Gudang.

Fourteen years after achieving city status, the new township of Nusajaya was opened. The first “occupants” of Nusajaya were the Johor civil service, which moved its offices there after the state administrative centre was relocated from Bukit Timbalan in downtown Johor Baru.

The township did not look like much at first. Many civil servants working there complained of a lack of food outlets as it was a new area.

Today, Nusajaya has become more liveable, with the coastal highway, Puteri Harbour, Mall of Medini and Mydin. EduCity, the new central business district of Medini, Pinewood Iskandar Malaysia Studios and Sunway Iskandar are among the newer projects there.

The birth of Nusajaya and the influx of professionals and technical workers, including Johoreans willing to start careers in their home state instead of Kuala Lumpur or Singapore, has added to the appeal of Johor Baru.

It also contributed to a rise in population. It is estimated that the number of people in Iskandar Malaysia had surged to 1.35 million, or 43 per cent of the state’s population of 3.17 million, in 2008. Today, there are indications that the number of people in the growth corridor has grown to 1.8 million people.

It may be getting crowded in southern Johor but it’s nothing an awoken giant can’t handle.

The writer is NST’s Johor bureau chief

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