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Sat 6 Nov 2010 12:00 AM

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Positive outlook

While delegates at the fourth annual Construction Week Conference felt 2010 had been a tough year, the outlook for 2011 looked promising.

Positive outlook
QUESTION TIME: Key panelists discuss the state of the industry.

While delegates at the fourth annual Construction Week
Conference felt 2010 had been a tough year, the outlook for 2011 looked
promising.

Guest speakers and delegates may have been cautious in their
assessment of the state of play within the Middle East construction industry
but an air of confidence underscored the fourth annual Construction Week
Conference in Abu Dhabi
last week.

While the past two years has not been an easy ride even for
the industry’s major players, the global economic downturn had encouraged
construction companies to focus on their core business and to explore
opportunities for diversification in both the range of work they covered, and
the promise that existed new and emerging markets.

Conference chairman Wael Allan, Regional Director of Hyder
Consulting, said: “In my view, it was very well attended – and I felt the
discussion on the review of the year 2010, and the future leading in to 2011
and the market conditions reinforced many things that I believed, and changed my
mind on a
few others.”

Chief among those beliefs is that the wider GCC market
offers great opportunities for companies wishing to expand their horizons.
Arabtec’s CEO Thomas Barry told delegates that was exactly what his company is
doing: centring its efforts on regions that not only have a desire to complete
projects, but the finance to see them through.

“Generally, 2010, has
been a challenging year. For me the highlights have obviously been the opening
of the Burj Khalifa, but the main highlight has been exporting our business to
neighbouring GCC countries, and very successfully. I know a number of other
contractors here have been very successful in working in these countries too,
and it’s encouraging to see that expertise being utilised as it was in the boom
times,” he said.

Allan said the discussion: “Confirmed our [Hyder] strategy
in where we are going, and the possible trends that are emerging in countries
like Saudi Arabia, Qatar - and
even here in the UAE and where things are going in terms of design and
construction.

“However, some markets very impressive on paper, but in our
experience, we’re earning more money in other areas. Some markets may appear
tempting but verifying or dispelling those facts is something these conferences
are perfect for,” he said.

Freyssinet general manager Khalil Doghri said: “I think that
in terms of people and the profile of the speakers, the conference was a great
success. There were a lot of high profile people that are well respected in
their fields.

“There are very limited opportunities to speak with people
of their calibre normally, so getting a chance to network with them and to keep
informed about the industry is very good. It’s not so easy when there are so
many people wanting to speak to the same people, but it is good to have the
chance.”

Sachin Kerur of Pinsent Masons chaired a discussion on
infrastructure development within the region, directing his questions at John
Lee, from the UAE Department of Transport; Laurie Voyer, Al Habtoor Leighton’s
CEO and MD; Chris Hinton from EC Harris and Stuart Allan from Wilbur Smith
Associates.

“It went very well, and I was filled with a sense that
there’s a need for infrastructure projects throughout the region, and that
there is no choke on infrastructure development,” Kerur said.

“There are some that think that there has been a change in
thinking on trophy assets – that some have been postponed – but the core
message is that the region needs more infrastructure, and that has not altered
in any way,” he added.

Saleh Muradweij, executive director of GTCC, a DSI PJSC
company, was one of the panelists during the morning discussion on project
financing, and said he felt the conference was well attended.

“From my point of view, even for the short time I was able
to be there, I could tell there was a big difference in the attendance this
year. I always find the discussion interesting, and I enjoy the Construction
Week
Conferences,” he said.

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