When it comes to making an impression, Dubai tends to go above and beyond — quite literally. The futuristic port city is a utopian architect’s vision made real; it encompasses glittering skyscrapers, artistic landmarks, and, soaring above it all, the tallest spire in the world. Sleek train lines weave through it all, carrying cars filled with tourists and locals alike across the cityscape. Dubai is a tech-forward metropolis; a bustling hub for international trade, and the crowning jewel of the MENA region.
Today, the city is an internationally-recognized urban center — and yet, you might have been laughed out of the room for suggesting that it would become one only a few decades ago. Back in the seventies and eighties, Dubai was a pass-by port rather than a destination in its own right. It was known for its oil trade, but not as much as its neighbor, Abu Dhabi, and had little to speak of in terms of skyscrapers and business centers. It was an unremarkable port; one that seemed like an unlikely candidate for global trade leadership.
The reason for Dubai’s seemingly improbable growth is deceptively simple; it welcomes and provides a hospitable environment for business growth. Today, there are over two dozen “free zones” in the city, all of which offer top-class facilities and infrastructure for business founders of all industries and nationalities.
The Value of “Free Zones”
Free zones empower business growth and industry diversification by attracting foreign direct investment. These incentives can and often do include allowances for full foreign ownership of the enterprise, quick approval procedures, extended leases, tax exemptions, and full repatriation of capital and profits. Such perks are obviously beneficial for the companies that take advantage of them, but they also serve Dubai’s interests; in attracting foreign investments, Dubai facilitated the creation of thousands of jobs and brought needed technological resources and knowledge into the city.
These business-friendly tactics have delivered results for Dubai and, indeed, the UAE as a whole. Today, free zones collectively account for more than half of the UAE’s non-oil exports and have effectively diversified the country’s economic achievements beyond the energy sector. However, the benefits of Dubai’s pro-business philosophy have not been limited to diversification.
A New Era of Achievement in Dubai
As of 2019, the UAE leaped to 11th place in the World Bank’s Ease of Doing Business list; as of 2011, Dubai ranked in the world’s top 15 commercial hubs, overtaking long-established centers such as Milan and Bangkok. The city’s business-forward policies and supportive programs have led to a fast-paced period of achievement — not only for international investors but for aspiring local entrepreneurs, as well.
In 2016, researchers for Linkedin found that entrepreneurship is the fastest-growing occupation in the UAE, with a growth rate of 98.3% year-on-year. This is perhaps unsurprising, given that the city has a plethora of entrepreneurship-focused incubators, accelerators, and support programs. The Dubai Future Accelerators program, for example, forges connections between startups and government organizations, while initiatives like GITEX Technology Week offer early-start startups and entrepreneurs with a high-profile opportunity to display their ideas, network with investors, and receive mentorship.
Programs like these illustrate that Dubai understands how critical nurturing growth is to long-term financial growth. The city is prepared to put in the work, money, and time to ensure that achievement-focuses businesses domestic and abroad choose it as a home. As writer Ammar Al Malik put the matter in an article for Entrepreneur, “With the myriad opportunities available for startups and entrepreneurs, Dubai serves as a launchpad for the most scalable, diverse, and successful startups of our time.”
Dubai believes in investing in the future — and if its current growth has taught us anything, it’s that its investments see odds-defying returns. We shouldn’t be surprised when the UAE becomes a foremost leader of industry and trade.
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