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MENAFN - Khaleej Times - 05/05/2013

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(MENAFN - Khaleej Times) Ajman Free Zone was able to attract 900 new companies in 2012 and it expects up to 40 per cent growth in 2013 compared to last year with a new installment-based payment plan that will help woo more investors, a top official said.

Currently, the free zone has more than 7,000 companies registered with the Ajman Free Zone Authority, or Afza, and total investment to date stands at over 1.5 billion.

"We plan to continue attracting companies in line with our projections and so far our performance during the interim of the first quarter is well in line with our projected plans," Afza general manager Mahmood Khalil Al Hashemi told Khaleej Times in an interview.

"We have seen growth each consecutive year and in 2012, we had registered over 900 companies, and we are confident that this positive trend will continue into this year, over and above last year's performance."

He mentioned that the authority is in the process to acquire more land for further expansion, and it is also planning to open international offices to attract more investors. Excerpts from the interview:

Are you looking at expanding the free zone's premises and facilities, considering your growth expectations?

Certainly. As we continue to grow we have realised the need to expand the facilities and this process is on now. In tandem with our vision and growth plans, we are in the process of acquiring new land as well as building a new warehouse complex. Concurrent to these developments, our existing free zone is entirely undergoing a revamp whereby new services and more efficient network are under planned execution.

We are also innovating on our existing services adding more value propositions to investors. Warehousing demand has always been robust in the free zone and we have seen 100 per cent occupancy over the last few years. We have now innovated on the warehousing front to accommodate a wide array of investors across a broad spectrum of budget requirements by introducing "smart warehouses". These warehouses have been designed after meticulous research on the requirements of the existing and prospective companies. This complex would have warehouses starting from as small as 100sqm in size, offering even an SME investor a viable option.

The extension of the free zone and construction of the warehouses have been planned to cater to the market demand. These warehousing units would be segmented into units for storage, logistics, distribution and light industrial units.

How do you plan to drive growth in attracting investors and what initiatives in your pipeline to continue to stay on the growth trajectory?

Reducing time to start a business through a single-window mechanism, innovating our services coupled with providing cutting-edge facilities will stay as the drivers of the new phase of growth we are looking at. To accelerate investment, we have enhanced our marketing strategies in the year and will ensure that the free zone's footprint is extended to other countries with a series of road-shows, seminars and exhibition participation.

The authority also has planned international offices with Mumbai being one of the first one to be operational. We have more international locations planned and shall announce them shortly. As part of expanding facilities, we have acquired a new office tower, the Amber Gem, which will add 1,000 more offices to accommodate new investors. Apart from the new office complex, we are in the process of acquiring a new land for housing heavy and light industrial units. Also, this expansion would consist of warehouses for storage and distribution purposes.

How has investors' response been to your new initiatives?

We have seen an overwhelming investor interest. We believe the robust response is also because we are a cost-effective free zone and have streamlined our processes to cater to investor requirements in a speedy manner. We have ensured that new licences are issued to investors within 24 hours, and that is a big plus point.

Coupled with this is the array of new initiatives triggering new investment flows. These include a recently announced installment-based payment plan for investors, smart warehouses, and smart and executive offices, which offer low investment thresholds suitable for emerging entrepreneurs, start-ups and SMEs, where the company can be started for as little as 555 per month.

Apart from these, investors have also been attracted to our offer of a 20-year land lease for manufacturing and 100 per cent ownership coupled with an array of other advantages.

Could you provide a breakdown of the investments in the free zone in terms of specific country-wise enterprises?

Our investors are a mix of nationalities from across the world. Predominantly, 40 per cent of the investors are from India and the Sub-continent, followed by Western Europe comprising 25-35 per cent, especially from the UK, Italy and Germany, and the balance is a mix between companies and individuals originating from the Northern American region and the Far East. Of late, we are also seeing a strong influx of investors from Eastern Europe and Central Asia.


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