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Tue 29 Mar 2011 11:58 AM

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City lights

Riyadh’s looking rosy at the start of 2011

City lights
At the beginning of 2011, Riyadh is on the radar more than ever

When Bill Clinton got up at the Global Competitiveness Forum
in Riyadh in January to praise Saudi Arabia for its ‘ease of doing business’,
there must have been a few old Saudi hands in the audience reflecting
nostalgically about how far the kingdom has come.

But the Saudi capital
has certainly found itself in good stead at the beginning of 2011, coming 11th
on the World Banks ranking of business jurisdictions and with a thoroughly
successful property road show in the shape of Cityscape Riyadh at the end of
2010.

In terms of projects, it is not all about the King Abdullah
Financial Centre either. Kingdom Holding Company recently announced that its
plans for Riyadh and Jeddah Land
in Saudi’s two biggest cities had found consultants. The two mega-developments,
16.8 million m2 and 2 million m2 respectively, are slated to attract SR75
billion over the next few years – not a drop in the ocean by any means, even in
a flourishing Saudi market.

It was good news for international firm Hart Howerton and
Saudi partner Omrania, which won the contract to develop Riyadh Land
last month, including drawing up the master-plan and design the residential
project, likely to house upwards of 75,000 people. It is a double whammy for
Omrania, which has also been brought on board to design KHC’s Jeddah
development with international firm – and KAUST designers – HOK.

In light of all this it is little surprise that Cityscape
Riyadh met with such a good reception at the end of last year. The official
report from the show, published last month, revealed that a total of 5,058
people passed through the doors of the Four Seasons during the three day event,
representing architects, developers, suppliers, contractors and government officials
from some 38 countries.

In the words of Abdullatif Al-Asheikh, chairman of projects
and planning centre at the Arriyadh Development Authority (ADA), which finished
the Agha Khan-winning Wadi Hanifah last year, the reception of the show
reflected what was happening in Riyadh,
a city which is expected to grow substantially in 2011 and beyond.

“The Cityscape exhibition reflected the remarkable progress
achieved by Riyadh
and the hectic preparations being made for implementing the new projects,” he said.

The largest proportion of visitors at the event, according
to the report, came into the ‘other’ category, with the second largest falling
into the category of managing director or general manager. The third largest
category was those in business development and sales. This breakdown is useful,
showing that the majority of people were there touting business.

Speaking at the World Bank event, Clinton rightly pointed to the role of small
business and the Saudi youth in ongoing growth in the kingdom, arguing that
small and medium enterprises (SMEs) were important for the kingdom’s long-term
job growth and stability. This is particularly appropriate for the growing
population of young Saudis, many of whom will want to start small businesses to
compete in the growing economy.

Clinton
argued that the Saudi government’s continued emphasis on education and job
training will make this possible, and perhaps this is not an unfair statement.
The current five-year plan for development in Riyadh, revealed at the end of January, aims
to reduce unemployment from the 2009 rate of 9.6 per cent to hit 5.5 per cent
by 2014.

The ninth of its kind, Saudi Arabia’s five-year development
plan unveiled SR1.4 trillion riyals allocated, with a goal  to reach GDP growth of 5.2 per cent annually
from now until 2014, as well as a reduction in the jobless rate to 5.5 percent
by 2014, down from the 2009 rate of 9.6 percent. The Central Department of
Statistics quoted unemployment at 10.5 percent for 2009.

For those looking to Saudi Arabia as a new market, there will no doubt
be optimism that the kingdom’s economy is growing in the right direction, while
those in Riyadh will be pleasantly surprised that individuals such as Clinton
are in their corner.

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