Oman: Big opportunities for small businesses

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Small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) in Oman are gaining increased support from public and private organisations alike, with a number of public officials having expressed enthusiasm for the further development of the sector.

According to the Ministry of Commerce and Industry (MOCI), there are around 121,000 SMEs operating in the Sultanate, accounting for around 90% of economic activity. While more than 40% of SMEs are in the retail sector, small businesses also have a significant presence in construction and contracting. As such, the ministry has identified the need to create more services to address the challenges encountered by smaller local businesses.

To this end, the MOCI has already planned a number of SME-related events in 2012. The fourth annual Small & Medium Enterprises Exhibition and Conference (SME Expo), held in February at the Oman International Exhibition Centre in Seeb, focused on the future of SMEs in the Sultanate’s economy, particularly with regard to providing employment opportunities. Attendees also stressed the need for public-private cooperation in promoting entrepreneurship, calling for labour law reforms and better integration of small businesses across the economy.

It seems the government has begun to address some of the issues discussed at the SME Expo. At a meeting with representatives of SMEs in early April, Ali Bin Masoud Al Sunaidy, the minister of commerce and industry, announced the creation of a consultancy committee at the Directorate-General of SMEs, a division of the ministry that works to form policy on small business development.

Al Sunaidy said the committee would seek to provide SME owners with solutions to the problems they encounter in running their businesses. The minister also announced further plans to boost the amount of technical support necessary for SMEs, stating the ministry intends to send representatives of 50 Omani SMEs abroad for business training in 2012.

Another note of optimism for technical support of SMEs is the recent move by the Telecommunications Regulatory Authority to unblock a number of voice over internet protocol (VoIP) services. The easing of restrictions on VoIP services would benefit SMEs by driving down the cost of communications with international clients.

Private companies, banks in particular, are also getting involved. Some local private banks have begun offering new financing methods for small business owners. Oman Arab Bank, for example, launched a new initiative at the end of March with the aim of promoting SME growth. The product, called Tomouhi, which means “my ambition”, seeks to provide local businesses with financing to create a stronger private sector that will foster the development of smaller companies.

Abdul Qader Asqalan, the CEO of Oman Arab Bank, said the bank has recognised the importance of SMEs in contributing to the Sultanate’s economy. “Getting the necessary finance in time to support SMEs is the backbone for maximising the benefit from commercial opportunities,” said Ghulam Al Balushi, the head of SME Banking Services at Oman Arab Bank.

BankMuscat is also working to promote small businesses, having hosted an SME workshop at its head office in late March. The workshop focused on providing local entrepreneurs with the necessary information to address challenges in their businesses, and attendees participated in case studies to examine SME leadership and identify typical problems faced by several businesses.

According to Khalid Bin Mohammed Al Zubair, the chairman of the SME committee at the Oman Chamber of Commerce and Industry, “The SME sector is playing a key role in the country’s development, particularly in terms of self-employment opportunities. Sound leadership is the foundation of success for any business establishment. Inspiring leadership can identify challenges ahead and draw up plans to face them.”

The enthusiasm for the promotion of SME growth seems likely to continue, with the upcoming Oman Economic Forum in Muscat set to put the spotlight on local small businesses. Organised by the Ministry of Commerce and Industry, in conjunction with Al Iktissad Wal Aamal Group, the Oman Chamber of Commerce and Industry and Duqm Special Economic Zone Authority, the conference will seek to attract foreign direct investment to local businesses and to encourage the establishment and financing of small businesses in the Sultanate.

With SMEs accounting for 16% of GDP and serving as a major source of employment, it is no surprise that the government is seeking to improve business and growth strategies for local entrepreneurs. If the authorities continue to pursue this aim with the same zeal, it seems certain that small companies will continue to thrive and expand in Oman.

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