In 2013 Ras Al Khaimah finds itself at a crossroads similar to many other manufacturing-based economies: taking stock of initial successes and contemplating how to add more complex products to the mix. Manufacturing accounts for more than a quarter of RAK’s GDP, and while there is no desire to shift away from the activity, government authorities remain confident that the emirate’s essential foreign-investment proposition – an enabling, low-cost and tax-free environment centrally located for shipping – is attractive to both basic and advanced industries. Technology companies are increasingly setting up in RAK, and the hope is that this trend will continue.
A pioneering example of RAK’s tech focus is Falcon Technologies International, a maker of advanced optical storage disks. The company was founded in 2004 and began production in RAK in 2005 in the RAK Investment Authority (RAKIA) free zone in Al Hamra. Falcon’s products include optical data storage discs that use gold, silver, platinum and other elements, and utilise anti-scratch technologies.
These data storage discs are more durable than those commonly sold for consumer use, and Falcon guarantees that the data will last over 300 years on one of its CDs, or 100 years on a DVD. The use of gold in a layer applied to the polycarbonate disc protects against corrosion, for example, and silver ensures readand-write capabilities at the lowest error rates. The firm sells these products to governments, hospitals and others in the private sector for which the absolute reliability of archived data is a must. For Roberto Santini, the CEO of Falcon, RAK is a guaranteed investment, a safe location with strong infrastructure, entrepreneurial spirit and a comfortable place to live. “Foreign investors have numerous benefits investing in RAK; the quality of life and the level of services provided by the government are key differentiators that represent a strong value added,” he told OBG.
Newer entrant Eternity Technologies began production of its rechargeable batteries for forklifts and other vehicles in 2011. It chose to locate outside the free zones in the onshore economy to export tax-free to other GCC countries. Customers include makers of these vehicles and after-market suppliers of replacement batteries. One of Eternity’s key concerns was electricity access, and the prospect of a partnership with RAKIA helped allay these concerns. “This industry requires a great deal of power, and we were concerned about that elsewhere,’’ said CEO JM Stevenson.
He told OBG that RAK could do more to develop its high-tech sector by targeting solar-energy industries.
The technology is regarded as being in a development phase, targeting an increase in the energy conversion rate to 30%. Once this level is reached, solar power will be a more economically, commercially and technically viable means to power the emirate.
One group involved in that process is CSEM UAE, the local unit of the Swiss Centre for Electronics and Microtechnology. This non-profit joint venture between the Swiss agency and the RAK government roughly follows the model of its parent in Switzerland, which acts as a research and development partner on a contract basis. CSEM can be hired for research projects by paying only the labour costs, and has the option upon completion to purchase the intellectual property.
As part of its agenda, however, CSEM is aiming to create small-scale solar-energy equipment that can withstand desert conditions, as well as produce energy more cheaply than diesel-powered generators (see Energy chapter). Fuel subsidies from the RAK government have resulted in one of the world’s lowest-cost environments for generated electricity.
CSEM reasons that if it can beat the price of generators in the UAE, then it can beat the price of such electricity elsewhere. The firm has a testing ground near Al Hamra where it is experimenting with renewable and energy-efficiency technologies, including a “solar island” (an offshore floating platform of solar panels that may be connected to remote settlements or small developments on land) as well as weather-data collection.