On the business side, the pandemic has revealed the resilience of cities like Sharjah, which continued to grow amid crisis by allowing global investors leverage opportunities offered by its diverse economy, business-friendly environment and low operating costs, among other competitive advantages.
At the end of 2020, the emirate attracted 24 foreign direct investment (FDI) projects worth $220 million (AED 808.6 million), as per a Wavteq study on Sharjah’s FDI annual performance. There has been a 60 percent increase in the number of FDI projects between Q3 and Q4. While certain sectors were impacted, others witnessed remarkable growth, offering substantial investment opportunities for businesses in the fields of e-commerce, health and medical research, and personal protective equipment, among others. This boost in economic activity in new and emerging sectors led to the creation of 1,117 new jobs in Sharjah.
Over the year, Sharjah FDI Office (Invest in Sharjah), the investment promotion office operating under the Sharjah Investment and Development Authority (Shurooq), continued to bolster investment activity in Sharjah with a wide range of services and facilities, including a real-time analysis of local markets, which helped incoming businesses identify suitable opportunities. Investor confidence in Sharjah continued to grow in 2020, with 24 new investment projects worth $220 million 2020.
Reflecting on how IIS quickly adapted to the volatility that characterised the year, Mohamed Juma Al Musharrkh, CEO of Invest in Sharjah (IIS), said that 2020 had, “taught us the competitive advantage of adaptability, which will continue to inform the manner in which IIS would leverage future investment trends.”
“The Covid-19 outbreak caused global foreign direct investment (FDI) to shrink by 21%-61%, according to a WAVTEQ’s report. It also states that job opportunities in the medical equipment manufacturing sector increased by 53.4%, and in life sciences by 45.4%, the highest since 2012. Jobs in e-commerce, financial technologies and logistics also grew at a quick pace during 2020,” he added.
Al Musharrkh remarked that WAVTEQ had forecast an increase in FDI in various vital primary sectors in the next 12 months, predicting a 74% hike in life sciences, 55.6% in Information and Communications Technology (ICT), 49.7% in food and agriculture industries, 46.2% in logistics and distribution, while the cleaning technology industry is expected to grow at a rate of 30.2%. Secondary sectors, including e-commerce, medical technology, education technology, cybersecurity, financial technology, and smart logistics, is expected to bring high-yield investment opportunities for innovation-driven SMEs.
Apart from the need to increase investment in future industries, 2020 taught us that we must focus on SMEs, start-ups and emerging innovation-based businesses which are the backbone of social capital and economy and have a direct impact on microeconomic indicators, Al Musharrkh said. An analysis of The Global Entrepreneurship Index indicated that countries with high per capita GDP have a higher share of entrepreneurial enterprises, he noted.
IIS participated in 14 major local and international events and webinars during 2020, covering a wide range of sectors such as investments in real estate, technology, trade, entrepreneurship, industrial manufacturing, health-tech, agriculture and technology.
The entity kicked off 2020 with the Sharjah – Korea Business Roundtable in February, and subsequently organised 11 virtual discussions throughout the year to explore potential investment opportunities that would leverage markets in the future, in keeping with the UAE government’s efforts to curb the spread of Covid-19.
The ‘Sharjah Economic Ramadan Majlis’ discussed the impact of the UAE stimulus plan on economic stability and growth and how it could mitigate the challenges faced by companies due to the outbreak of the pandemic. IIS also hosted a virtual seminar on the future of agrotechnology and the role of governments in addressing food issues. Another session tackled the topic of keeping pace with change and flexible investment trends.
In its capacity as the regional director of the MENA chapter of the World Association of Investment Promotion Agencies (WAIPA), IIS led a regional members’ meeting which provided a unique opportunity to learn from regional investment leaders about the approaches various organisations have been taking to overcome challenges posed by the pandemic.
The IIS office also organised a series of panel discussions and roundtables with a host of international investment leaders and businessmen from South Korea, India, China, USA, Austria, and Italy to explore investment prospects and challenges as well as to share success stories of foreign businesses which have expanded from Sharjah to the regional and global markets.
Through its Sharjah Investors Services Centre (Saeed), the office offers investors a one-stop high-end business facility with fully integrated services to help them set up their businesses swiftly and efficiently in less than 60 minutes. To ensure the delivery of quality services, the office has built a strong communication and partnership network with all related government entities, including Tas-heel, the Notary Public, Emirates ID Authority and the General Directorate of Residency and Foreigners Affairs.
Concluding their initiatives for 2020, Invest in Sharjah hosted members of ‘Young Economist Programme’ at a panel discussion to discuss the role of youth in shaping UAE’s economic future, in line with the national efforts to nurture young economists and build their capabilities.