Although the rising cost of operating here may prove challenging for companies, businesses new and existing still find Singapore an attractive destination for their activities.

But this will be so as long as certainty remains in the business environment here, said the new chairman of the board of directors of the Singapore International Chamber of Commerce (SICC).

Rolf Gerber, who took over the post with effect from yesterday, said that to help Singapore maintain its status as a business hub, the SICC aims to continue being the voice of international businesses here and to represent their views to the government.

Members of the SICC have identified rising costs of business and the tightening of labour force regulations as their two greatest operating challenges in Singapore, but Mr Gerber said this does not mean that Singapore cannot stay relevant to companies.

He noted that Singapore has become home to not only trading and manufacturing companies but also to a growing pool of scientific and technological businesses.

The SICC represents members from more than 40 nations and 20 industry sectors.

Speaking to BT exclusively, the chairman of LGT Bank (Singapore) and previously the chief executive officer of the UBS Group here, said: "Singapore can attract new businesses, which in the past may not have been represented here."

For instance, new industries in perfume manufacturing and research & development, seeking to move into the region, are picking Singapore because they require highly-skilled and trained staff that can be found here.

The optimism he feels is rooted partly in the government being business-minded and business-focused, though he believes this could be reinforced.

"We also have certainty here - maybe not as much as before - where you know business is supported and this is a valuable asset that Singapore has."

So even though other countries in the region may provide cheaper labour, the "software" that Singapore offers and which companies look for is just as important as the hardware.

Outgoing SICC chairman Shanker Iyer told BT in an interview that he shares his successor's optimism.

"There is no company that I am aware of that is going to leave Singapore, as there is no logical competitor to Singapore (as a regional business hub)," he said.

But both Mr Iyer and Mr Gerber are aware that rising costs and manpower tightening regulations are issues topmost on the minds of SICC members, and that some are looking for solutions to this.

Mr Gerber said: "Many (SICC) members are looking at other options because Singapore as a whole - especially when they are not in the high-tech area - has become too expensive. Maybe, their operations have to go elsewhere, leaving just the administrative office in Singapore."

One viable site SICC and its members have identified is the Iskandar region, just across the Causeway.

Mr Gerber disclosed that SICC has had a closed-door session with the Iskandar authorities, who updated SICC members on the developments in Johor state's economic zone.

"In other countries, when the city becomes too expensive, businesses usually move towards the outskirts and benefit from lower costs. In Singapore, this is not possible because of the lack of space. So Iskandar, theoretically, presents itself as a hinterland," Mr Gerber said.

He admitted, however, that there needs to be greater connectivity and political will to address issues such as border restrictions and import taxes before Iskandar can become a viable hinterland.

Mr Gerber said he wants to see SICC contribute to Singapore becoming a relevant business hub and would like to continue the measures put in place by his predecessor to ensure that SICC remains relevant.

"I would like to see the chamber growing bigger, representing more bodies and becoming more relevant," said the board member of 10 years' standing; the career banker has been the board's first deputy chairman since 2011.

Mr Iyer is leaving the SICC chairman post after having served for the maximum term of two years.