How are both the Hamriyah Free Zone and the Sharjah Airport International Free Zone (SAIF) contributing to economic growth in Sharjah?
Both free zones are crucial components of the economy of Sharjah, and serve as its backbone. Today, over 13,000 companies have been established in both free zones, and over 1,000 industries ranging from small and medium to heavy industries have been set up. We have investors of 157 nationalities, who are active in diverse economic sectors in our zones. The free zones were developed to encourage grater FDI investment within Sharjah, since it was a leading industrial city and home to 33% of all the industry of the UAE. The free zones complement that growth, and we are targeting unique sectors for growth within Sharjah specifically, and within the UAE overall. When it comes to industries, we are highly specialized, and consider the merits of integration and clustering, by looking at how we can develop our services further to provide our investors a well-balanced, one-stop service business environment that enables their growth.
What types of companies are operating in the free zones?
Listed companies, limited liability companies, and family businesses have been established here. For example, Lamprell, which is our largest customer in Hamriyah Free Zone, uses it to build rigs for export throughout the world. There is also Eversendai, a Malaysian steel fabrication company that has undertaken multiple projects around the world. We are glad to have a variety of industries, because they oblige us to determine how best to segment them. We have to look at what is required to make these companies grow and make our free zones attractive to them. And since the service of the free zone alone is not sufficient to attract such companies, we also consider the third-party businesses they require for efficient operation. From the service to the supply sectors, we work to combine all elements to make the environment more competitive, efficient, and more timesaving for the client.
Which economic sectors are most important in Hamriyah Free Zone?
The biggest sectors are oil and gas and maritime. Furthermore, Hamriyah Free Zone is the largest steel zone in the UAE. We are also the second largest oil storage zone in the UAE, and we are expanding that offering and looking at new customers to set up their businesses in the sector. We have many other sectors like building materials and food production, which we are looking to expand as we have recently created a new food and plastic packaging zone. This is a new project in Hamriyah that will cater to a specific clientele; we are encouraging customers from around the world to participate.
Are you experiencing an influx in investors as a result of these efforts?
We are gaining ground in sectors such as the food and petrochemical sectors. We are expanding the steel sector in the free zone, and we have the largest private shipbuilding facility, namely Damen Shipyard with around 350,000sqm of land. We look at different sectors, and also work to complement these industries together. Sometimes certain industries are unaware of other industries in the Free Zone, whereby we match them together, which creates synergy and builds more business between them. Today the Free Zone has an area of 22 million sqm and, to cope with rising future demand, a further expansion of 10 million sqm has been planned.
Could you elaborate on the incentives Sharjah Airport International Free Zone offers to potential investors?
The SAIF zone is adjacent to the Sharjah International Airport. It was the first free zone to be set up in Sharjah, in 1995, and is unique. It caters more to SMEs compared to Hamriyah. Today, the SAIF zone has over 6,700 companies with about 500 industries spanning all kinds of production from consumer goods to logistics to building materials. Several aviation companies are located there. The free zone is about 13 million sqm and we are expanding it to include another 3 million sqm that is currently under development, which will be used for warehouses, road infrastructure, utilities, and offices for our clients. SAIF has a lot of well-established companies that are listed. What we are trying to do in SAIF zone, as well as in Hamriyah, is to cluster their focus; we are looking at complementing the airport by encouraging more logistics companies and more aviation companies to establish their business in the SAIF zone and we are looking at more consumer goods and cargo that is related to the airport.
Which sectors have you prioritized for foreign investment in the coming year?
Sharjah has always had a balanced economy; we have a certain margin of growth that we focus on. What we are trying to do now is look at how we can upgrade our services in the different fields in both free zones. We are looking at more software-enabled services—more third party enabled services to improve the efficiency for our clients when it comes to cargo and transportation and other facility management services. The zone has very good growth and we are very optimistic about the next five years. We are looking at new sectors and new countries, such as the US, Canada, Portugal, and Brazil. We are also looking at Europe in a big way, because it is a big market for us. We have recently gone to Japan, which was very encouraging. We already have some Japanese firms, but our aim is to accommodate more clients from Japan. From trading to manufacturing, we are looking at expanding that area because the Japanese are excellent at manufacturing and we want to encourage more industries to come here. Furthermore, we encourage foreign investors to visit the Hamriyah Free Zone and SAIF Zone, to see for themselves and get a clear impression of what the free zones can offer. We show them all the available services that they can get and the facilities that are available, and then they decide what is best for them. We work closely with the Sharjah Port Customs, the airport, and all the economic authorities to give the investor the right platform for them to do their business. We have had 1,000+ industries over the last decade and a half; we understand this business and we have a clear idea of what investors need. We look at specialized sectors that we know will add value—not only to the free zones and Sharjah, but also to the entire region. We look very closely at integrating our economy, not only gathering numbers. I'm confident that this strategy will allow us to grow in 2015 and the coming years.
© The Business Year - April 2015