Maryam Al Murshedi knows all about hard work. The deputy director general of RAK Free Trade Zone (FTZ) has seen it become one of the fastest growing and most successful free trade zones in the UAE, since it was formed twelve years ago.
But it wasn’t always this way. At international conferences in the early days, the team was mistaken for promoters of Iraq, and regularly asked if they had forgotten the “I” in front of “RAK”. She explains, “Even some people inside the UAE did not know we existed at the time”.
That sparked a change in the marketing strategy. “We then decided to capitalise on the success of the other emirates,” says Al Murshedi. “Our advertisements highlighted the fact that we were 45 minutes away from Dubai airport.”
And so with government support, clever marketing and cost-effective solutions on offer — the cost of registering a business in the free zone starts at $5,000 — the RAK FTZ grew in stature. Currently the industrial complex has more than 6,000 companies based there from 106 different countries. In 2011, 2,000 companies joined RAK FTZ, a rise of sixteen percent on the previous year.
However, when asked to pinpoint the reason for RAK FTZ’s impressive growth, Al Murshedi focuses on the one thing that she says the bigger zones can’t offer: making its new tenants feel part of a community.
“The first thing that we’re capitalising on is our personal reach,” she says. “You can call me at any time; I can call and see you at any time. We deal with our companies like families. We adopt them. We go and visit them, listen to their problems,” she pauses, and then with a grin adds: “Even be their shrink”.
“And you don’t find this in the bigger free zones; they don’t have this personal touch any more. Although we’re growing, we try and keep that.
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“So it’s not just getting a client registered and then leaving them to do their own thing. We take care of you: like if clients are coming from abroad, for example, and they don’t know the country we have someone that helps them step by step.
“If you need a school, we say ‘OK, here is a list of the schools that you can see; do you need us to call them? If you need business cards, we suggest that you go to a certain supplier because it is cost-effective. We can help you with the recruitment; we can help you in the training’; so we hold your hand until you find your way around."
As an example, Al Murshedi cites the current efforts by the free trade zone to cater for the growing number of German companies setting up base at the RAK FZT. “We are participating a lot to make their life better,” she says. “We organise events for them. We even have a German desk just for them. We have a German-speaking person to assist them, in case they don’t speak English, and this is not just from eight o’clock until four o’clock — she’s available at any time.”
Even during the recession, RAK FTZ’s business strategy was based on the desire to assist, halting many of its own expansion plans to support companies in the emirate. Al Murshedi says: “At that time, a lot of people had built buildings; I’m now talking about the private buildings in Ras Al Khaimah. So what we started to do is to take those buildings and rent them from their owners, and then re-rent them to our clients. This was an initiative to support the economy because those people came in good faith and put their money in Ras Al Khaimah and we should support them to find a viable commercial solution.”
Today, new companies wanting to base themselves at RAK FTZ are carefully scrutinised to find the best possible solution. “It is very important to understand them: what they’re going to do today, what they’re going to do tomorrow,” says Al Murshedi. She reveals that RAK FTZ at times recommends that companies go to other emirates if it feels it cannot offer the desired service. “For example,” she says. “One time we had a big paper mill company that was interested, but they required lots of water, and so at that time we could not facilitate them and so we told them that we would not be able to do it. That’s why it’s very important to understand where they are going to be in the future.”
With so many free zones emerging throughout the region, there is no shortage of competition for Al Murshedi and her colleagues. So far, they have shown themselves to be more than up to the task.
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