Engineer Chua Tian Beng, 49, and his wife Goi Gwek Meng, 44, run two businesses dealing with mechanical and electrical services. His companies hire 26 people and have an annual turnover of about $4 million. They have a factory in Loyang Crescent and live in a semi-detached house in Tai Keng Gardens with their parents and four children.
What's for reunion dinner this year?
It will be at my nephew's restaurant, Seafood Paradise. We'll have the usual reunion spread like shark's fin and seafood, which my father loves. We won't be cutting down on cost because the reunion is an annual affair and in Chinese culture, the dinner must be sumptuous to signify better years to come.
What was for reunion dinner last year?
Last year, we had a feast at home with everything from shark's fin and abalone to chicken and duck. My mother cooked the meal. She usually cooks but as she's getting older, she tires more easily. So this year, we decided to give her a break.
How was the Year of the Rat for you and your family?
It was full of ups and downs. Growth was strong at the beginning of the year and inflation was high. At work, I raised all my 40 workers' pay by about 20 per cent to help them cope with the increased cost of living.
We also moved into our new factory in Loyang Crescent in the middle of last year. I invested $3 million to lease the land. The 4,000sqm place is more than double the size of our old factory in Defu.
But things took a dive when the recession hit in the last quarter of the year. We took a 180-degree turn and shrank instead of expanded. I did not renew the contracts of about 15 staff, and I have since rented out half the factory space to lower overheads.
What is your biggest fear for the Year of the Ox?
The year ahead will be tough and the construction industry, which is related to my business, will run into more liquidity problems. Now we depend more on maintenance work with town councils, HDB and JTC, rather than new projects. Luckily, we were agile and responded well before the recession hit.
How did the Budget help you?
The 15 per cent rebate for government tenants will help me. My factory's lease is under JTC. I pay about $6,000 in rent monthly. The other saving will be on the 12 per cent CPF rebate for employers. Every month, I pay about $70,000 in wages, and about $40,000 is for locals. The package was really well thought out and as employers are helped, they will be able to retain workers.
Any wish list?
I hope the Government will give even higher rental rebates. This will immediately help many companies lower their overheads and be more competitive. In previous recessions, the rebates were between 30 and 50 per cent.
This article was first published in The Straits Times on January 25, 2009.