Employment: More than 700 Bhutanese are now employed at the IT park, its operator Thimphu TechPark Ltd (TTPL) announced, last week.

The park was under contract to employ at least 700 by 2015 end.

“As of today (February 24), there are 717 Bhutanese, mostly youths, working at the IT park,” the company announced in a press release.

There are eight companies operating at the park, excluding incubating companies. Of the eight, three are 100 percent FDI companies.

The vast majority of the employed are working with a US based company, Scan Cafe, which has 538 employees. These employees are mainly engaged in photo editing, and designing photo books and stories.

A local call centre, iSOFT, is the second largest employer at the park with 45 employees, followed by the Bhutan Telecom contact centre which has 42.

Another FDI company, Southtech, has 39 employees engaged in software development.

Employees at the IT park are paid better than their counterparts outside the park, according to the park’s chief operating officer, Tshering Cigay Dorji. “All the employees are paid better at the IT Park compared to those offered by domestic private companies for similar qualification and skill,” he said.

He did not deny that some Bhutanese software developers at the park are paid more than Nu 100,000 a month. “Yes, some skilled programmers could be given very good project-based pay depending on the value they bring to the company,” he said.

While the IT park is open 24 hours everyday, only iSOFT runs a night shift. “The IT park is a living breathing building as the computer servers of the data centre and the tenant companies are working all the time even when people are not,” Tshering Cigay Dorji said. “Hence, we, the TTPL team, have to ensure that our diesel generator backup is ready all the time, and that the internet connectivity is never down or never down for too long to disrupt the operations of our tenant companies.”

The once vacant IT park is today on the verge of running out of space.

If the FDI registration of a company piloting at the park is approved, almost all of its 58,000 sq ft will be occupied.

“We will only have about 5,000 sq ft of built up space in the ground floor left then,” Tshering Cigay Dorji said.

On whether expansions to the IT park should be considered given the recent successes, Tshering Cigay Dorji said that TTPL is almost operationally sustainable which includes meeting their monthly loan repayment obligations.

“If new investments need to be made, reasonable monetary returns may or may not be assured in the short to medium term,” he said. “But even if it does not make too good a business sense monetarily, the returns for the country in terms of employment opportunities created and foreign exchange earned in the long run make compelling reasons for Bhutan to invest in the IT Park or the overall development of IT/ITES industry,” he added. “IT is the present as well as the future. This is the way to go. The value of some investments cannot just be measured by the annual revenue or monetary profit.”

Tshering Cigay Dorji said that the crossing of the 700-mark directly employed target shows that the IT and IT enabled services industry holds potential for Bhutan meeting two challenges: youth unemployment and the trade deficit which reached Nu 32.8 billion last year.

However, while successes are being made on the employment front, the government is yet to ensure adequate public transportation between the core city and the park. The park’s largest employer has in the past said this may hinder further expansion plans.

The IT park was inaugurated in 2011 and Druk Holding and Investment owns 51 percent of the shares with Bhutan Telecom owning the rest.

Gyalsten K Dorji