The Future of Economic Growth in Vietnam

One of many active brick factories on the way to Ha Long Bay

As we begin our 5 hour journey back to Hanoi from Ha Long Bay, I have a moment of subdued quiet to reflect on our time in Vietnam. During this trip we had a chance to see snapshots of major economic drivers of this communist state: startups and technology, manufacturing of textiles and electronics, and tourism.
We were lucky to attend a panel of Vietnamese academics, technology folks, and our own trip attendees. The panel was kicked off by the American ambassador to Vietnam, Ted Osius. The gist of the event was to discuss how Vietnam can peg it’s exponential move up the growth curve to technology and startups. But what really struck me were the questions asked by the audience members. Many had an unhealthy obsession with the process itself and wondered how they could copy entrepreneurship and silicon valley culture. But I’d argue that while taking steps matter, they are not equated to guaranteed success. So I left the talk questioning if this was really the key to economic growth.
Instead, our journey to Ha Long Bay, particularly in the far suburbs of Hanoi, showed that I believe the countryside is where economic growth will occur. The amount of construction was mind blowing. Nothing like the scale of Manhattan, but the changes from an agricultural rice-based society to one where (I presume) workers toil away in contract factories making consumer goods like Cannon scanners and Nike shoes for wealthier nations. Even in the staged village we stopped in was impressed with the amount of modest flat screen TVs and cars I saw in a country where car ownership takes a back seat to motorcycles.
Finishing at Ha Long Bay introduced us to another driver of growth, resort tourism. We stayed at a wonderful hotel on a man-made island that wouldn’t make sense in the states at the rates they are charging per night where there were more staff than guests. And maybe if we were in Ha Long Bay ten years ago it would have looked wildly different.
In short, the trip has left me with more questions than answers about what the future holds for Vietnam. Will increasing technology and a push for innovation be the catalyst? How will automation and protectionism weigh against the country’s reliance on manufacturing? And is tourism a sustainable path for growth?

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