The construction of the Padma Bridge is expected to be completed by 2022, making it the 122nd longest bridge in the world and the longest bridge in Bangladesh. This marvelous infrastructure has opened the doors of great potential, especially for the marginalised populations in the southern-west parts of Bangladesh. It will contribute substantially to the nation's Gross Domestic Product (GDP) through the creation of strong supply chains that will enhance investment, external and internal trade, employment generation and poverty alleviation, and eventually better the socioeconomic status of the people in that region.
It is expected that the bridge will contribute to nearly two percent of GDP in our economy. According to conventional economic analysis, the accumulative effects on GDP could be traced as follows. Ease of transportation will create new business opportunities for the agricultural and industrial sectors. This will generate a new investment hub for both local and foreign investors, which in turn will lead to the establishment of new industrial units resulting in numerous employment opportunities. As demand for labour increases, there will be more recruitment, reskilling or up-skilling of the labour force according to industrial needs and a possible rise in wages. The wider economic opportunities will eventually alleviate poverty, raise living standards and produce intergenerational gains through greater affordability of education and healthcare.
Given that the agricultural sector is still a vital contributor to GDP, the aforementioned economic gains would be substantial in the case of considerable proportions of investment mobilised towards agriculture. The Padma Bridge will create this invaluable opportunity wherein enhanced connectivity across the country, coupled with strong supply chains, will enable agricultural produce to be transported to different parts of the country within a reasonable time period. Farmers will benefit from being able to maintain the quality of perishable commodities as well as lower production costs arising from transportation and storage facilities. Furthermore, direct communication with the large dealers of agricultural commodities will also ensure fair prices for the farmers. It is noteworthy that this, in turn, will provide a unique potential for the economic engagement of the youth labour force, who could be incentivised to seek employment or create enterprises in the agricultural sector.
Youth engagement in social, economic and civic activities is a fundamental mechanism to address the much debated concept of demographic dividend. The increased scope for industrialisation will likely raise the number of educational institutions in the region, along with the creation of greater economic opportunities. Thus, human capital development will be enhanced, the proportion of NEET (Not in Education, Employment or Training) youths will decrease as they integrate into the formal employment network and enthusiastic young entrepreneurs could flourish, particularly in small and medium-sized businesses.
In addition, increased investment and industrial growth in the southern-west regions induced by enhanced connectivity will have multiple spillover effects in the form of network economies benefitting the micro, small and medium-sized enterprises (MSMEs). In essence, integration of SMEs into local production systems will enable them to network with other firms and support institutions, and gain from economies of scale in purchase, production and distribution. Therefore, greater access to markets and resources will enhance the sustainability of MSMEs and allow the businesses to thrive through gains in productivity, profitability and being able to influence decisions at policy levels.
Last but not the least, the urbanisation pressures on Dhaka are expected to reduce as enterprises developed in the southern-west parts of the country would dampen the frequency of the rural-urban migration caused by the various livelihood prospects in Dhaka. Hence, investment and employment opportunities in south-western Bangladesh could potentially lead to industrial decentralisation and lower population concentrations in Dhaka, which could be a key instrument to improving the quality of life in the capital.
The multitude of economic prospects offered by the Padma Bridge mandates the right set of policies targeted towards the most relevant economic actors. Policymakers will need to design and implement business facilitating policies that will boost investor confidence and make business environment conducive to foreign direct investment. The strategic interventions will result in further gains if the policy focus promotes inter-firm networks to attain sustainable and inclusive industrial growth. Furthermore, policies can result in multiplier effects if youth development is prioritised through ensuring their employment in formal job settings and encouraging the establishment and growth of youth entrepreneurship.