Sharjah is looking to further reinforce its place as the centre of industrial production in the UAE, continuing to invest in projects designed to attract manufacturers to its shores while also stepping up efforts to promote the emirate as a prime investment destination.
Sharjah has long been the industrial heartland of the UAE, with recent figures released by the Sharjah Economic Development Department (SEDD) showing the emirate accounted for up to 48% of the country's industrial GDP.
Currently, Sharjah has 19 separate industrial districts, 17 of which have been set aside for factories and production facilities, another dedicated to warehousing and exposition centres, and one for industrial activity in the Al Sajaa area.
Above and beyond this is the emirate's Industrial City (EIC) development, a fully integrated project covering more than 7m sq metres that will cater to the full range of industrial activities and requirements, from production to warehousing, logistics, sales, exposition and administrative space. Well over $1.3bn has already been invested in EIC, with the main infrastructure in place and work continuing on the remaining construction.
In total, there are more than 1600 industrial enterprises operating in Sharjah, providing work to well over 75,000 employees, with both figures set to expand as new developments come on-line and demand grows.
The significant contribution of the industrial sector to Sharjah's economy is no matter of chance, according to Ali bin Salim Al Mahmoud, the general manager of SEDD, but is the result of years of work that has developed an investor-friendly climate, flexible legal framework, simple procedures and a fair tax system, which along with state funding support and a skilled workforce have helped make manufacturing a central component of the emirate's economic revolution.
However, while much has been achieved, officials are not resting on their laurels. In February, plans were unveiled for an electronic guide to the emirate's industries, a part of the wider "See Sharjah" initiative designed to promote the country as a business, tourism and investment destination.
The See Sharjah Industrial Directory will provide detailed information and statistics on the emirate's industrial sector and will assist in achieving one of the goals of SEDD, which is increasing the private sector's contribution to Sharjah's GDP while also bridging communications between government and semi-government, said Al Mahmoud.
"We are confident of the directory's role in stimulating growth and providing a perfect investment environment in Sharjah according to the highest international quality standards," he told a press conference to announce SEDD's sponsorship of the project.
Some 90,000 compact discs of the e-directory will be pressed and distributed as widely as possible through both state and private agencies, carrying the message that Sharjah is in business.
It is a message that needs to be reinforced as the global economic crisis has impacted on Sharjah's industrial base, with demand for some products, especially materials for the construction sector, easing somewhat in 2009 as a number of building projects across the UAE and other markets were put on hold.
However, there have been both positives and negatives to come out of the downturn, with the steel fabrication industry being one to experience the swings-and-roundabouts effect of the slowdown. According to Naveen Jacob Fernandez, the manager of Steelfab – the region's premier trade exhibition for the steel fabrication sector held annually in Sharjah – many metal products firms may have to consider shifting the focus of their production away from meeting the needs of civil construction projects.
"The global financial meltdown and its fallout have had an impact on the country and the entire region," Fernandez said in an interview with UAE daily Emirates Business 24/7 in mid-January. "However, the proactive measures adopted by respective countries have ensured that infrastructure works are on schedule. Moreover, there is massive potential in the regional oil and gas sector."
As fabricated steel products were used extensively in infrastructure developments, along with the oil and gas and other sectors, the industry was well placed to ride out any fall in activity in the real estate sector, he said.
"The emphasis placed on spending through higher budgetary allocations will ensure that industrial and infrastructure developments in the country and region continue," said Fernandez, speaking on the sidelines of the fair at the Sharjah Expo Centre.
With state spending on infrastructure taking up much of the slack in the region's economies, most of Sharjah's industries will likely be able to adapt and prosper thanks to their flexibility, experience and strong foundations.