|Sharjah Chamber of Commerce and Industry|
Diversifying the Emirate’s Economy
Sharjah Chamber of Commerce and Industry (SCCI) is constantly strengthening its efforts and attracting investors from different sectors with an aim to open doors, generate business and diversify Sharjah’s economy. In this exclusive interview, His Excellency Hussain Al Mahmoudi, Director General, Sharjah Chamber of Commerce and Industry talks about their activities and initiatives that are paving the way for more success.
While growing Sharjah’s economy, how is the SCCI contributing to the development of the UAE?
Sharjah is part of the UAE and what benefits us here benefits the country as a whole. We work closely with our colleagues at the Chambers in other Emirates, and together we play an important role in developing the national economy.
Our main role at Sharjah Chamber is certainly to support the private sector in Sharjah. We have 55,000 members here that include some very substantial companies. The region’s largest oilfield services company – Petrofac – has more than 3,000 people based in Sharjah. Dana Gas is the region’s first integrated gas firm. Also, Gulftainer is one of the world’s biggest privately owned port management companies. Additionally, the biggest food firm in the region – International Foodstuffs Company – is a Sharjah company.
All our members are important to us, and the thousands of small and medium sized enterprises in Sharjah are incredibly important to the development of the economy here.
Each Emirate has its own economic strengths. It is the combination that has made the UAE such an incredible economic success story over the past 43 years. When looking at Sharjah, the key strengths would be the diversification of our economy, our legacy as a regional centre for manufacturing, our geography (being the only Emirate with coastline on both coasts) as well as culture, education and development through organizations such as Sharjah University City.
Tell us about the active business establishments in Sharjah and how is the SCCI helping them.
We play various important regulatory roles such as providing certificates of origination and promoting arbitration. We also work to improve the business environment for private sector companies in Sharjah.
We actively promote the products of Sharjah’s economy. Therefore, every year, amongst other activities we have four major promotions like shopping festivals and retail promotions.
We also help exporters by organizing delegations for Sharjah business leaders to multiple countries in order to build ties with their counterparts abroad. Ultimately, these trips lead to business opportunities and trade exchange.
Moreover, we help business leaders understand the economic environment better. Better information leads to more confidence, which is the key to a successful business.
Earlier this year, we launched the Sharjah Chamber Business Confidence Index and survey, which quantified how business leaders felt about the economic prospects for the year and how they planned to invest.
More recently, we released a research on consumers’ preferences for locally made goods and services. Four-in-five consumers in the UAE prefer to buy locally made goods and services if they can. This is a great opportunity for industries here and we are now working with businesses to see what we can do to build on this.
What is driving foreign investors to this Emirate?
Sharjah has a history stretching back decades of being an international hub for the region in a number of industries, such as manufacturing and logistics, and that continues to drive foreign investment here today. At the Chamber, we support all investors in Sharjah, whether they are from the UAE or other countries.
Choosing and finding the right location is a critical business decision for any company. Therefore, we offer well-established industrial zones with highly educated people, good connections in the region and infrastructure as well as a dynamic and confident business community.
Being geographically close to Dubai, which has been a very important global economic success story has a great impact on us.
Unquestionably, foreign investors just like anyone else are looking for the most cost effective location that fits their needs. For many industries, Sharjah has the right combination.
How do you facilitate their activities?
We travel to several countries with an aim to promote Sharjah as an investment hub. We often do this with government departments here such as Shurooq, which is focused on inward investment. We also organize events at the Chamber in order to strengthen the business community in Sharjah, which involves foreign investors.
Sharjah is looking strategically at sectors where we think we have comparative advantage. Those key sectors include tourism, transport and logistics, healthcare and environmental businesses. Thus, whilst we are keen to attract investment in all sectors, those are of particular interest to us.
Which sector is currently at the vanguard of doing business in Sharjah?
The strength of Sharjah’s economy is its diversification. We have one of the most diverse economies in the region and no sector accounts for more than 20% of GDP.
The real estate sector accounts for about 19% of the economy, and manufacturing accounts for about 17%. Sharjah has been the manufacturing centre of the Emirates for many years, and we now have 19 industrial zones and two free zones.
Furthermore, trade, tourism, financial services and transport are all important parts of the economy.
As I mentioned, in Sharjah we are particularly focusing on four strategic sectors to ensure the development of the economy. Sharjah Chamber plays a vital role in this alongside many other organizations and all under the inspired guidance of His Highness Sheikh Dr Sultan bin Muhammad Al-Qasimi, Member of the Supreme Council and Ruler of Sharjah.
Sharjah is a beautiful Emirate with a rich cultural heritage. Thus, we have a lot to offer in the tourism sector. We are safeguarding our past here and building tourism infrastructure for the future.
We do have infrastructure in place, such as Hamriya, which puts us in a great position to develop our transport and logistics. However, environmental industries are also an area of future growth. Al-Saj’ah is already one of the largest waste management plants in the world and we are developing wind and geothermal power.
Moreover, healthcare is the fourth area we are focusing on. Sharjah Healthcare City is set to become the largest healthcare facility in the UAE.
At the moment, there are about 180 major projects being developed across different industries in Sharjah alone. By major, we mean a project worth at least US$10 million, and many are substantially larger. That significantly implies more projects than in some of the capital cities in this region; therefore, we are making good progress here.
How do you help the private sector better understand the local market?
This is an important part of our role at Sharjah Chamber. Information drives confidence, which businesses need to invest and to employ people. Of course, we are not the only ones doing this. The Economic Development Department plays a central role in providing data on the economy in Sharjah.
We recently released the inaugural Sharjah Chamber Business Confidence Index and Survey. We did this research with, Dunn & Bradstreet, an international expert firm that measures business confidence all over the world. The Sharjah Chamber Business Confidence Index stood at 137.6 points, indicating positive and rising sentiments amongst the business community. A score above 100 indicates positive business optimism.
We looked at sectors and found that construction firms were the most optimistic, with manufacturing and trade and hospitality also scoring highly. Exporters were marginally more confident than those producing for the domestic market.
This kind of information is very useful for businesses in the private sector because it enables them to understand what others are thinking. They can then work out if their own assumptions and predictions are correct.
How are you supporting the development of domestic manufacturing?
As I have mentioned, in Sharjah, we have a real legacy in manufacturing and we are still an important regional manufacturing centre. Manufacturing accounts for about 17% of Sharjah’s GDP. It really is important, so we spend a lot of time working to support manufacturers.
The most recent piece of work we have done is around consumer preferences for local goods and services. We found that 80% of consumers in the UAE prefer to buy local products if they can. This was actually a surprising number for me in such an international society, but I was very pleased to see it. Furthermore, almost half of consumers in Sharjah would prefer to buy goods and services made in Sharjah itself if they can, which is just great news for local companies.
The real issue is information. About half of the respondents felt they had insufficient information and more than a quarter could not name a single UAE brand.
The message here for local producers is that there is a ready market for your goods and services, but people need to be more aware about what is made here.
Sharjah Chamber have long had an exhibition of products made in Sharjah. I encourage everyone to come visit and take a look. It is in a very large room, which encompasses many cabinets with an extraordinarily diverse range of goods. Many visitors were surprised to see the products made in Sharjah and we can’t be but proud about this in the Emirate.
How do you assess the trade sector in Sharjah in the aftermath of the last financial crisis?
I joined Sharjah Chamber in 2008 when the financial crisis was starting. The Federal Government was very active and mitigated the economic risks by putting in place the right organizations and the right economic stimulus schemes. We are seeing the fruit of that active approach today. In Sharjah, one of the key strategies to solve the problem was trade. We identified it as a key enabler to help the economy get back on its feet again. Therefore, Sharjah Chamber was very active, taking delegations to new markets in Africa, the GCC and Asia. Today, the economy here is doing well and trade is one of the top three sectors of the economy.
How is Sharjah planning to diversify its economy further?
We are working hard to diversify Sharjah’s economy further, but it is important to recognize that Sharjah is already one of the most diverse economies in the region. That is one of our key strengths today and our job is to ensure that it will be a stronger component in the future.
Sharjah is taking a strategic approach and has looked carefully at sectors that are both looking very positive for the future and in which we enjoy a comparative advantage. I have mentioned the four key sectors that we are particularly focusing on – tourism, transport and logistics, healthcare and environmental businesses. Therefore, we are particularly focused on those, but are also looking to support the development of businesses across all sectors.
What would be your advice to businesspersons planning to invest in Sharjah?
I would urge any business owner to look closely at Sharjah as a potential location. We have a lot to offer businesses here, and we are hoping that more and more companies will join those that are already present here and are very successful.
The doors of the Sharjah Chamber of Commerce are always open to businesses thinking about locating here. I always make sure to personally spend plenty of time talking to businesses that are considering his option. So my advice is look at it, talk to us, and then make your decision. In many cases, I expect businesspersons to choose Sharjah and I look forward to welcoming them as members of Sharjah Chamber.
About H.E Hussain Mohamed Al Mahmoudi
His Excellency Hussain Mohamed Al Mahmoudi is Director General of the Sharjah Chamber of Commerce and Industry, a role he has held since 2008. Sharjah Chamber’s role is to be the voice of the business community in the Emirate, promoting and expanding economic life. He is also Chairman of the Emirates Business Council for Sustainable Development. Earlier in his career, His Excellency held senior positions with ENOC, Dubai Internet City and Shell, where he was based between the UAE and the Netherlands.
He holds a Bachelor’s degree in Economics and Communications from Seattle Pacific University and a Master of Business Administration degree from the American University of Sharjah.