TBY gathered some of Sharjah's top business leaders to discuss enhancing the process of doing business in the Emirate and becoming more efficient.

Mohammed Al Musharrekh
Invest in Sharjah
Ahmed Bin Saed
Head of Commercial Investment
Sharjah Economic Development Department (SEDD)
Maha Mansor Al Zarooni
Exporters Service & Markets Executive
Sharjah Chamber of Commerce and Industry (SCCI)

Can you tell us about the specific sectors that are of interest to you?

MOHAMMED AL MUSHARREKH When we first started promoting Sharjah in 2012, we commissioned an economic study with an international consultant and interviewed several government and private sector entities in Sharjah. We found that Sharjah has a lot of opportunities across many different sectors, but the highest returns on investment and value added are in tourism, logistics and transportation, healthcare, renewable energy, and the environment. Since then, we have identified education and light manufacturing as new sectors where we foresee growth. Sharjah is well known as the manufacturing hub of the UAE, and we represent around 35% of the total manufacturing in the UAE. We would like to expand on this and use the resources we have in the different free zones and industrial zones further to promote this sector. The objective is to support HH Sheikh Sultan's vision for a sustainable and diversified economy, and Invest in Sharjah helps investors discover the many opportunities these sectors have to offer.

What makes Sharjah's value proposition unique in those sectors?

AHMED BIN SAED Sharjah is a very good place to do business, and doing business in the UAE in general is famously easy. The social aspect differentiates itself from the other Emirates. People mistake it for being a conservative Emirate; however, it is more of a family-friendly location. Proof of that is that we have people living in Sharjah and working in the other Emirates. We want a knowledge-based sustainable economy. We are the industrial hub; we have the leading environmental agency in the region. We have a lot of educational institutes, and one of the leading in the region is the American University of Sharjah. The list goes on. Culture, education, and a knowledge-based economy are things that the other Emirates lack compared to Sharjah.

Where do you see the most export demand for Sharjah?

MAHA MANSOR AL ZAROONI Our biggest export customer is Saudi Arabia, but we are still seeking new markets in East Africa and Russia. We look to Africa because it is now booming, and there are 150 million people in Ethiopia, Kenya, and Uganda.

What opportunities are there in the environmental sector for potential foreign investors?

MMAZ When it comes to renewable energy and recycling, Sharjah is taking the lead in the region with the Sharjah Environment Company. It is expanding every day and has opened in Dubai and Abu Dhabi, and is expanding into Kuwait and Saudi Arabia in the near future. It started by recycling tires and producing rubber blocks and is now into transforming waste into energy. It has a joint venture with a company from the UK for a project worth AED1.3 billion (USD354 million) and has recently signed an MoU with Masdar to enhance the clean energy sector in the Emirate of Sharjah. Besides this, we have the Sharjah Electricity and Water Authority, with which we are working to attract more companies that would like to produce clean energy. In Sharjah, we have power purchase agreements that lend investors plots of land, who then produce clean energy through wind or solar that the government will buy. We have a good number of opportunities in the renewable energy and environment sector; this is the future. The strategy of the government of the UAE is toward a diversified economy–one that no longer depends on oil—and we are getting there.

What type of activity do you see from a licensing perspective and are there renewable energy inquiries?

ABS We are preparing our human capital for the new paradigm shift and developments that are emerging, regardless of whether they are technical or ideological. There are many R&D firms in various fields of expertise flocking to Sharjah. Investing in human capital will take a company a long way, and the success of Sharjah is a testament to this nation's investment in developing the skills needed by the industries it hosts. Many people still perceive the Emirates as oil-reliant economies; however, the reality is that the majority of investments are in construction or technology, or bringing in new ideas such as business consultancies into the Emirate. In addition, the Emirate also provides more investment opportunities for public-private partnerships.

Is human resource building the responsibility of the public sector or the private sector?

MAM The government and private sector are both responsible for building human capacity and moving the whole UAE toward sustainability and resilience. The first batch of renewable energy engineers just graduated from Sharjah University, which added renewable energy engineering to its specialties. This illustrates how the government of Sharjah and the UAE is keen to develop and strengthen this sector by providing graduates with positions in both government and private entities to ensure investors find the right vocational skills in the local talent pool. People typically capitalize on providing services; however, today, with the rapid pace of technological developments, we need our human resources to have know-how and expertise. It is a collective effort to keep up-to-date, and the responsibility lies with institutes or organizations reinvesting in their workforce. On the other hand, we have educational institutes that have the full support of His Highness the Ruler of the Emirate of Sharjah. As an Emirate, we have 5,000 new graduates per annum and that figure is growing, which is an indicator that investors can depend on for their productivity and profitability.

Invest in Sharjah has emerged as a distinct entity. Can you tell us the motivation behind that?

MAM We launched the Invest in Sharjah brand as part of the Sharjah Investment and Development Authority (Shurooq) to send a clear message to the international community and foreign investors that Sharjah is keen to attract more investors, whether to free zones, the mainland, or specific projects in the Emirate. We have several interesting projects coming in which Invest in Sharjah will play a major role in attracting investments. We have the new Research, Technology, and Innovation Park, which is part of the American University of Sharjah. We have the new publishing free zone and the new healthcare city free zone, as well as the new media free zone, which now offers media-related licenses­—a welcome addition to the Sharjah economy. We have several interesting developments, and Shurooq has many projects that will be launched in 2017, mainly in the tourism sector with several hotels in the eastern area and a new development that will be opened soon. Specifically, it is the first traditional five-star hotel in the Emirate of Sharjah, which is part of our Heart of Sharjah project. By launching the Invest in Sharjah brand, Sharjah will be seen more in the international arena as a preferred destination for foreign investors.

Can you talk about how your institutions communicate and coordinate with each other?

MAM When any trade license in Sharjah is issued, one will see the Invest in Sharjah brand, creating awareness and synergies between the private and public sectors. Whenever it deals with any company, it will send its trade license, and the Invest in Sharjah logo accompanies that. The same initiative was taken by Air Arabia, the official airline of the Emirate of Sharjah. We collaborated with it and put the Invest in Sharjah logo on the planes themselves. These planes fly to three continents. Air Arabia has a base in Morocco, and from there, flies to most of Europe; from Sharjah, flights connect to the Indian continent, most of the Arab world, Europe, Moscow, and different CIS countries. The private sector and the Emirate of Sharjah are helping us, and we look forward to working with Sharjah Chamber of Commerce and Industry (SCCI) and Sharjah Exports Development Center. Whenever someone exports to a foreign country, they have to get a certificate of origin. So our next project in the promotion of the Invest in Sharjah brand will be putting the SCCI logo on its certificates of origin. Besides promoting the brand, we do different seminars promoting Sharjah locally and internationally. We also have a concept called Sharjah Business Roundtable, which we held with the Arab world, China, the US, the UK, and the Netherlands. Through the roundtable we promote Sharjah generally and invite speakers from Sharjah Economic Development Department, the free zones, and SCCI to share their experiences of Sharjah. The same thing is being done internationally through Sharjah Day, which we launched in London and where we go collectively to promote Sharjah internationally. Within the government of Sharjah, we have strong relationships with a commitment to achieving the best results for the Emirate. We work closely to enhance and build on relations, while bridging local government departments and private sector enterprises with international investors.

MMAZ We have built a great vision in 2015 with Invest in Sharjah, and we also have the electronic membership renewal and certificate for the Economic Development Department. So there is collaboration between the government to promote Sharjah and show that all of the departments here work together. When we go for trade missions or exhibitions, we do so in collaboration with Invest in Sharjah or free zones. We went to Russia in 2017 and had Hamriyah Free Zone with us; when we went to Kenya and Uganda in 2015, we were accompanied by Invest in Sharjah.

What are your main challenges and priorities in the medium term?

MMAZ The number-one priority is to educate ourselves. We have great leaders who believe in and empower us, but we need to educate ourselves thoroughly.

MAM There are many opportunities, and our main goal is to facilitate and enhance the process of doing business in the Emirate of Sharjah in collaboration with the relevant government departments and authorities. We would like to make the environment for doing business in the Emirate of Sharjah easier, more attractive to foreign investors, and also to make Sharjah one of the best-known destinations when it comes to doing business, like Singapore, for example.

ABS We work collectively as a group of entities that are directly involved in the investment climate, the business sector, and business development. At times we need to go to entities such as SEWA or the municipalities and bring them on board. We need to invite them and involve them in the process so that they can be proactive as opposed to being reactive. That latency trying to initiate a project when these people are not involved in the initial stages can hinder it in the later stages. We can eliminate and shatter all these barriers by involving all these entities and showing them the value of what they do on a day-to-day basis. At the end of the day, we need to educate and enlighten ourselves. Our efforts in this sector involve many roles to be able to improve the quality of life in Sharjah and the UAE in general. What we do is add value, and our ultimate goal is not to increase money; the priority is to improve the quality of life in the UAE and place a high value on human capital and UAE citizens. By involving all these people in the process, we ultimately work better, become more efficient and productive, exchange knowledge, and serve our goal of improving the standard of living in the UAE, especially in Sharjah.