Until the northern emirates have a reliable infrastructure, their economic fortunes will rise and fall with those of their powerful neighbour Dubai – something they are understandably keen to change.
So the announcement in October that the UAE federal government is pressing ahead with plans for a railway linking all seven emirates is good news. The AED30bn Union Railway will make Ajman, Fujairah, Ras al-Khaimah, Sharjah and Umm al-Quwain more attractive to investors.
The northern emirates are already marketed as a cheaper base for industries and logistics companies, but the railway could be the catalyst for large-scale development.
There are signs that private investors are recognising the emirates’ potential. Local port management company Gulftainer is building two ‘logistics cities’ on the outskirts of urban Sharjah to support its shipping operations at Khorfakkan and Sharjah container terminals.
Despite an economic downturn that has forced logistics companies worldwide to adjust to lower volumes, Gulftainer says it has found tenants for up to 80 per cent of the new storage space.
The northern emirates now have to build on this investor interest and provide the infrastructure the region desperately needs to realise its economic potential.
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