Marwan bin Jassim Al Sarkal: Interview

Marwan bin Jassim Al Sarkal, Executive Chairman, Sharjah Investment and Development Authority (Shurooq)

Interview: Marwan bin Jassim Al Sarkal

What measures is Sharjah implementing to develop a knowledge-based economy?

MARWAN BIN JASSIM AL SARKAL: Sharjah has recognised the importance of attracting diverse regional and international businesses through the development of specialised free zones catering to specific sectors with the infrastructure and resources to meet their needs. The Sharjah Research, Technology and Innovation Park Free Zone launched by AUS Enterprises provides a venue for developing technology in key growth sectors including renewable energies, environmental technologies and new digital products. Sharjah Media City and Sharjah Publishing City will promote creativity and innovation in new media and the creative industries. There are also growing investment opportunities for health care investors through Sharjah Healthcare City. Furthermore, the zones are major catalysts for indirect investment in services such as health care, education and retail, which will be needed to cater to those employed in the zones.

Which sectors offer the strongest opportunities for increased private sector investment?

AL SARKAL: Sharjah continues to push for economic diversification by targeting key growth sectors including education, health care, tourism and real estate. Sharjah attracted Dh5.97bn ($1.6bn) in foreign direct investment in 2017, focused on areas such as architectural metal manufacturing, agricultural and construction machinery, and real estate. Sharjah is a major regional destination for higher education, and the government has launched infrastructure projects in Sharjah University City and provided support to advance education standards through external accreditation systems. With the health care sector estimated to be worth Dh3.9bn ($1.1bn) as of 2016 and projected to reach Dh8.8bn ($2.4bn) by 2019, the private sector is also playing an increasingly important role in health care investment.

Tourism is also an attractive investment destination, with growing segments focused on heritage, culture, adventure and ecotourism. Hospitality developments, including the addition of branded international hotel chains and smaller, boutique-style options, will help attract different segments. Having a diversified portfolio – including luxury environmental facilities, small-scale projects for adventure tourism and customised experiences – is important for any destination.

The number of upcoming real estate projects illustrates both the pace and scale of change which has given the emirate global visibility, and has attracted regional and international investors. Projects such as Tilal City, Aljada, Kalba Waterfront and Maryam Island will further raise the profile of the local real estate market. New developments, particularly community retail centres, will meet growing demand across Sharjah for leisure options. This will support the establishment and expansion of infrastructure around Sharjah, benefitting local communities and further integrating areas including Mleiha, Kalba and Khorfakkan – particularly through the new highway linking Sharjah City to the eastern coast – into the local economy.

How can Sharjah further promote local innovation?

AL SARKAL: The UAE was ranked 21st out of 190 countries in the World Bank’s “Doing Business 2018” report, and we are working to develop Sharjah’s position as a flexible and business-friendly destination in the region. Sharjah’s commercial roots are focused on enterprise and innovation, and one of the emirate’s priorities is to increase support for small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs); this strategy will include both the public and private sectors. Sharjah has pursued a policy of promoting smart, integrated government departments that utilise new technology, as well as encouraging increased efficiency and effectiveness in local free zones. This includes offering a single digital portal for those companies looking to establish their presence in a zone. This approach will allow businesses, particularly SMEs and start-ups, to minimise their set-up operations.

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Marwan bin Jassim Al Sarkal

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The Report: Sharjah 2018

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