By H.E. Sheikha Bodour Bint Sultan Al Qasimi
As part of Shurooq’s ongoing efforts, I undertake many overseas travels to present the emirate of Sharjah as a lucrative investment and business destination. As I network with commercial leaders and global investors from around the world, I often see myself pausing to put myself in their position, asking myself the most important question, Why Sharjah? Why should I invest in and share my business interests with this emirate?
I completely understand the obstacles prospective investors may face as being torn between catching what appears to be a profitable investment opportunity, and in the same breath being worried about feeding large sums of money into a market and a city they don’t quite know much about. It is precisely these challenges, which pushes my team at Shurooq and myself to work harder than ever before in successfully illustrating the ‘Sharjah of the Future’ to them – an emirate which has established itself as one of the most powerful business hubs in the entire Arab region.
I’m going to support this claim with real growth statistics and numbers. Take for instance, the latest report released by the Sharjah Economic Development Department (SEDD). According to it, the emirate’s GDP touched AED 140 billion in 2015, indicating a year-on-year growth rate of 3.4%. The number of businesses operating out of Sharjah also grew exponentially to reach 70,000 by the end of last year. This year looks even more promising with the demand for the issuance of business licenses and permits having grown by 3% already within the first half of the year. This will have a direct impact on Sharjah’s GDP growth rate, and reflects our expectations for the emirate’s future economic growth.
These statistics, among others, represent realistic indicators about stability and consistency in Sharjah, given the unrest rocking the economies of major cities, regions and countries around the world. They also highlight our successful strategy based on economic diversification, which increases investment’s security, providing investors with a platform for cross-border expansion to international markets from this vital region.
In trying to find a realistic answer to my question ‘Why Sharjah?’, I turned to reviewing studies, analyses and international experiences on investment trends, only to find that the answer was ruled by three dominant elements: human capital, the investment environment, and strategies laid out within the country’s integrated systems
Our recent strides in the field of economic diversification has brought on a large wave of new non-oil international investment interests to the UAE, especially Sharjah, one that charts a clear course and reflects our vision of the future. The Global Investment Trends Monitor Report 2015, issued by the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), indicates that the current global capital trend is looking for non-traditional markets whose economies are dynamic, diversified, vital and viable. Through a variety of decisions, legislations and new projects over the last decade, we have demonstrated that Sharjah is more than fertile a ground to nurture seeds of diversified investments from around the world. Our success rates this far have been phenomenal, and we are rearing to top our success stories with bigger, better narratives in future.
At the crossroads of the world’s ‘new silk route’
Sharjah’s leadership has had a fantastic track record in implementing economic diversification strategies across sectors since ancient times, as the emirate has been once of most important regional hubs for seafaring, transportation and logistics. In using their natural and geographical advantages to leverage their strategic position as a trade hub of the region, the Sharjah International Airport was developed to become the headquarters of Air Arabia, linking the emirate to more than 100 international destinations. Sharjah also has three advanced seaports, which are equipped with some of the best facilities in the UAE. The emirate’s seaports and airport connect a network of industrial zones and free zones, which attract a large aggregate of business and investments. Our seamless land, air, and sea connectedness; easy access to Dubai and Abu Dhabi, the northern emirates and ultimately the India Ocean, present an unrivalled environment to facilitate capital flow and investments in trade, industry, and tourism.
In Sharjah, we recognise human potential and appreciate what an individual can bring to society. The role human capital continues to play in maintaining the UAE’s position as one of the leading economies in the Gulf region and the Arab world can never be overstated. We, therefore, in Sharjah have built strategies based on best international experiences while maintaining the emirate’s distinct cultural identity to build on our pool of human capital – those who will enhance the attractiveness and stability of our current investment environment.
In addition to Sharjah’s knowledge base and human capital, we also provide investors ease of access, assuring them of the feasibility of investments in the emirate. We facilitate our investment environment through a catalytic combination of legislations and resources that help our investors glide over any obstacles, contributing to achieving their objectives and increasing their incomes. Our efforts are well-integrated within our nation’s strong economic portfolio, and further augmented by the actions of the UAE’s other emirates to attract more global investments.
Sharjah’s perfect balance of business and pleasure makes it a unique destination. An eclectic mix of opulent Islamic architecture and tall skyscrapers, traditional souks and modern shopping malls, cultural and educational centres, wide marine façades, the golden desert – are all factors that make Sharjah a truly special city for anyone in the world. These characteristics promote the emirate’s rich cultural environment, positioning it as a must-visit tourist destination; something that opens up a barrage of new and attractive investment opportunities for investors. Take Sharjah’s Mleiha Archaeological and Eco-tourism Project, for instance. The first phase has been officially opened, and demonstrates the emirate’s capacity of delving into and successfully delivering projects representing new areas of investments.
In addition to tourism, the Government of Sharjah has built the emirate as a global destination for medical tourism, bringing together researchers, specialists, doctors and medical students. The healthcare sector in the emirate was worth AED 7.35 billion last year, shows strong prospects for growth in the next few years – estimated at AED 365 million a year – soaring the expected growth of the sector to AED 8.8 billion by 2019. The Sharjah Healthcare City (SHCC), a free zone (FZE) entity, was built to offer keen investors an opportunity to capitalise on these positive trends in Sharjah’s healthcare sector. The strategy behind establishing SHCC as an FZE enterprise is to grant investors 100% ownership rights, not subject their earnings to taxation or restrictions, and allow them to operate under convenient rules and regulations through the single window service system.
In spite of our dedication to build robust infrastructural support for launching major economic projects, our strategic dedication to education will never be forgotten or neglected. We firmly believe that how much we invest in strengthening our education system will ultimately determine the future of our youth, our emirate and the entire Arab region. We are proud of the prestigious educational institutions that we have established; the American University of Sharjah and the University of Sharjah, for instance. The emirate remains replete with substantial investment opportunities in this sector to meet the needs of the young and dynamic demographic composition, which still requires more outstanding educational institutions. Sharjah holds a reputation for providing its educational investors with immense amount of support for their businesses to succeed, as the success of educational institutions is very close to the emirate’s heart.
All of the above lays out simply why Sharjah pursues a unique development plan to encourage foreign direct investments at the global level. It depends heavily on developing and diversifying its economy by encouraging innovation, creativity and entrepreneurship. Our smiling emirate fulfils every condition required for growth and prosperity, and is rich in opportunities for establishing special projects. We believe we offer a very rewarding investment environment – one that fully supports building strategic partnerships with investors around the globe, ensuring sustainable profits for our partners, whether entrepreneurs or international companies.
As I mentioned earlier in this piece that ‘Why Sharjah?’, was a question I wanted to take on from an investor’s point of view, tackling the main areas of concern they would have while looking out for investment opportunities in the emirate. I can safely say I have done justice in answering the question from an investor’s perspective, one that will be validated by thousands of successful investors operating their businesses out of Sharjah.
Sharjah has huge potential for future investments that will turn into historic success stories. I, therefore, welcome you to become part of Sharjah’s bright and prosperous future.
Her Excellency Sheikha Bodour Bint Sultan Al Qasimi is chairperson of Sharjah Investment and Development Authority (Shurooq)