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Sat 2 Jun 2007 12:00 AM

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An Oasis in the desert?

Shahla Ahmed Abdul Razak, deputy CEO, Dubai Silicon Oasis, talks to Christopher Sell about the need for integrated communities, attracting the ‘right people’ and safety on site in the aftermath of January’s roof collapse.

There are numerous free zones established or being built within Dubai and the UAE. What will set Dubai Silicon Oasis (DSO) apart?

The factor that distinguishes us from other free zones is that we are a city where people can live, own property and also work. There is currently no free zone with such a concept, not in Dubai or the Middle East - not that I know of anyway.

We are taking measures to ensure the investors, companies, the type of people and the infrastructure are of a high standard. We realised early on that an intelligence-based generation will not develop if we don't create the right environment. Property may depreciate in time, but intellectual capacity doesn't.

We have also established communication with the top universities worldwide to come and invest with us, because there is a demand for high quality education in the region. It is difficult for intelligent people in the Middle East, who are trying to get higher education, to travel to the West to study.

Which universities or businesses are involved?

I cannot say. But we are going to announce a top-class school, whose curriculum will support the microelectronics and nanotechnology industry from a very early age.

A month ago we launched a German joint venture within our German Business Park; two months ago we announced that one of Europe's top solar panel companies will be based here, and the ground breaking of that building will begin soon. And in three weeks, we will be announcing a leading Austrian company in solar glass manufacture, which is an important industry. We are patient, but we want the right people to invest.

Is it easy to attract people?

Once you create the environment, it is. People need to see it, be convinced by it, and then they will come.

What are potential investors concerned about?

Manpower and skills. What we want to do is bring IT companies here. IT is a vast industry; for example, IT chip design is the basis of any technology. So far, the number of IT-related companies - IT designers or software developers - make up 60% of the current total.

What is the current status of Dubai Silicon Oasis?

We want to finish the whole project in 10 years. There are phases that will be completed sooner but now we are working in parallel, bringing in technology companies that will either build off-plan or operate in the offices that we provide. The development is 7.2 million m2 and the infrastructure will accommodate 150,000 people.

Will integrated communities be the way forward for future developments in the region?

People look for quality living, whether they are into integrated communities or not. It is certainly more convenient. What we are doing is making sure that tomorrow they do not need to drive, they can ride bikes; so we will make sure there are cycle paths, and proper landscaping to make walking pleasant. Safety is important, as is health; we are taking both into consideration. So why not?

Regarding health and safety, Construction Week reported of a fatality on site at DSO a few months ago. What have been the implications of that?

In weeks to come, we are going to announce the establishment of a medical centre for emergency cases. There will be nurses on site 24 hours a day, and we will provide medical care - free of charge - for all the labourers working on our projects or other projects on site.

Did this incident bring into focus that there must be a balance between the speed of development and the safety of your labourers?

We are very careful with the speed of construction; we are staggering when contractors can start work on site. We now have 35 approved designs finished, but we are letting contractors come on to the site in phases, so we can avoid any accidents.

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