Entrepreneurs put their faith in a post-oil future

Foreign investment in Dubai has risen 26% in the first half of this year. Getty Images
Foreign investment in Dubai has risen 26% in the first half of this year. Getty Images

When Dubai’s 39-storey Sheikh Rashid Tower rose from the desert in 1979, incongruously dwarfing the handful of low-rise buildings around it, many dismissed it as a quixotic folly. Today, the building at the heart of the World Trade Centre is just one of Dubai’s thick forest of skyscrapers, each one a towering testimony to the wisdom of the emirate’s “build it and they will come” vision.

The success of that vision is underlined by the news this week that foreign direct investment in Dubai rose 26 per cent in the first half of this year, to $4.84 billion (Dh17.76bn).

Today, diversification away from oil is the driving economic imperative throughout the Gulf. It is being pursued with particular success in the UAE. In fact, Dubai has been diversifying for the past 50 years. Sheikh Rashid Bin Saeed Al Maktoum, ruler of Dubai from 1958 until his death in 1990, was keenly aware of the danger that his people could first rise but then fall on the tide of oil.

Taking inspiration from Dubai’s historic role as an ancient trading centre, he had the mouth of the natural harbour of the Creek dredged, a bold move that quickly paid off. When it opened in 1972, Port Rashid had just two cranes. By 1979 it had become necessary to build another port to cope with the demand. Jebel Ali is now the largest and busiest port in the Middle East.

Across the UAE, airports, iconic buildings, innovative infrastructure and unrivalled retail and leisure facilities have all followed, creating the physical landscape necessary for the development of diverse industries, from tourism to financial services. Recent business reforms are fine-tuning the economic environment to encourage a new wave of entrepreneurship. In April, Dubai announced measures to attract new investments and lower the cost of doing business. In May, nationwide plans were unveiled to cut red tape, making it easier for overseas investors to set up businesses in the UAE.

Since its creation in 1971 the UAE has strived to be an attractive place to live and work. Stable, progressive and cosmopolitan, and with two-thirds of the world’s population less than an eight-hour flight away, it has become a global hub, home to international businesses and world-renowned intellectual and cultural institutions.

In a generation or less, oil will have joined fishing and the pearl trade as just another chapter in the nation’s history, as Sheikh Rashid always knew it would. As the latest figures from Dubai show, it is entrepreneurship and inward investment that are the keys to the nation’s continuing prosperity.

In the shadow of Sheikh Rashid Tower, the UAE continues to build the future, and the world beats a path to its door.

Published: October 7, 2018 06:55 PM


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