Small Enterprise speaks to RAKEZ’s Group CEO, Ramy Jallad, about the opportunities 2019 brings along
How was 2018 for the industry and your company?
Well, I must admit, 2018 has become more competitive for the free zone industry. Several new hubs are being established here and in the region. The great thing really was RAKEZ came prepared for this. In 2017, we were launched to revolutionise the free zone landscape of Ras Al Khaimah – to make the emirate more attractive for foreign investors. RAKEZ was established packed with bigger and better incentives and benefits, from state-of-the-art business and industrial facilities in six specialised zones to first-class services and ongoing support services for our clients.
We have every solution for every business need, whether you are a starting entrepreneur, a freelancer, a seasoned trader or a manufacturer; and it does not matter if you want to set up a free zone or a non-free zone company because you can do either with us. So, I can tell you that 2018 has been a wonderful year for RAKEZ; it was full of achievements and recognitions. We are very happy and ready to take on 2019.
What sort of opportunities did 2018 bring along?
Last year has been a fantastic year for us and we welcomed great opportunities. To give you an example, we did a couple of roadshows to India throughout 2018. We visited six cities and then concluded it with the RAKEZ Business Investment Forum in New Delhi where we met over 50 high-profile business leaders in India. Apart from that, we have attended the EEF Annual Manufacturers’ Lecture in the UK as well as other international and local exhibitions. All of these have opened up doors for us to meet potential investors and businessmen who wish to expand or set up a company in the UAE. We are now home to exceeding 14,500 companies. That’s a lot of realised opportunities and none of them would have been possible without our very dedicated teams at RAKEZ.
Did you face any challenges in 2018?
I consider the competitive market as our main challenge this year, but this challenge helped us stay focused in improving RAKEZ overall. It helped us get further into the creative and innovative mindset. Our teams would sit together to brainstorm where we can do better, what technologies we can improve to enhance our processes, what products we can offer – there were just so many discussions we did on various areas to ensure that we stay on top of our game.
I have said this in a lot of interviews but I keep repeating it because it is true – we always put our clients in the heart of everything we do. Our aim is for them to get nothing but the best out of their investments as well as facilitate their growth. So I am proud that we are able to turn this challenge into an opportunity to serve our existing and potential clients even better.
What were your key achievements in 2018?
At the beginning of 2018, we opened a new office in India’s Bandra Kurla Complex, a high-end commercial complex in Mumbai, to cater to the growing demand we are receiving from Indian investors. We also launched RAKEZ Service Centre – Al Hamra, a one-stop shop for all of our services, which just recently received a four-star rating from the Star Rating Programme for Service Centres under the UAE Prime Minister’s Office. We are very proud of this achievement because we do exert a lot of effort in giving our clients a seamless experience every time they visit our service centres.
This award says a lot about how we always strive to be customer-centric. The plaque of stars is now installed at the entrance of RAKEZ Service Centre – Al Hamra. Our one-stop shop in Al Hamra is just the first service centre we introduced last year. It was quickly followed by the opening of RAKEZ Service Centre – Al Nakheel and then Abu Dhabi.
Aside from these new infrastructure, we introduced the Freelancer Permit to support education and media professionals in building their own path and becoming their own boss. We also introduced the Social Media Influencer Permit and a couple of promotions to help companies save on set-up cost.
In terms of recognitions, we were honoured by the fDi Global Free Zones of the Year 2018 with Bespoke Award – Reduction in Red Tape because of our commitment to reducing business barriers for our clients. A representative from Financial Times came to present the award to our Chairman His Highness Sheikh Ahmed bin Saqr Al Qasimi and myself. At a global level, bureaucracy is one of the major challenges faced by businesses, most especially entrepreneurs. When we go abroad to meet businesses, whether startups or industrial giants, one of the most common question asked is, “how easy it is to launch and run a business in Ras Al Khaimah?”
As you can see, it impacts the interests of investors on a certain business destination. This is why, I am personally proud of this award as it is a proof that with us, accomplishing bureaucratic requirements is the least of your worries. We will take care of you. We offer comprehensive support and we have three one-stop shops in the UAE as well as an office in Dubai where you can complete everything in one go. This award actually came a year after we were recognised by the same awards programme for our cost-effectiveness. Cost-effectiveness, ease of doing business and customisation are three things we stand for at RAKEZ.
Finally, we launched Portal 360 in 2018. I have been talking about this on my previous interviews as I was excited about it, and now it has been finally completed. Portal 360 is an online platform where our clients can access our range of services, from new registration, licensing, leasing and visa services as well as other support services. We have made our services more accessible for our clients. Wherever they are in the world, they can process their applications with just a few clicks.
What promises does 2019 bring along?
In 2019, our clients can expect us to maintain our focus on providing them with a seamless business journey. We have implemented a lot of enhancements since we launch RAKEZ and we are going to continue that momentum. We will still be reviewing our processes and reducing red tapes where possible.
Do you see opportunities on the market with Dubai Expo 2020 just around the corner?
Expo 2020 expects to welcome over 25 million visitors, and so it will indeed impact the entire UAE. Hosting a giant event such as the Wold Expo has raised the profiles and economies of the countries that hosted the event previously, and I expect the same for the UAE. Expo 2020 will attract visitors from various corners of the globe, most of them are people looking for investment opportunities which of course we have an abundance here in Ras Al Khaimah.
RAKEZ is a powerhouse economic zone which offers both industrial and business solutions to clients. We can cater to businesses of all sizes; freelancers, SMEs, traders, manufacturers, and so on. And we are only a 45-minute drive from Dubai International Airport, which is ideal for investors who want to get away from the hustle and bustle of the city and most especially, save up to 50% off on cost of living and doing business. Outside of RAKEZ, the real estate industry also has a positive outlook. Ras Al Khaimah has Al Marjan Island for investors who wish to invest in hotels or build new infrastructure. On the other hand, investors looking for developed real estates can find so many here in Ras Al Khaimah, be it at the city centre or situated by the shores, name it; Ras Al Khaimah has it.
When it comes to technology, what in your opinion is the biggest trend that needs to be incorporated to enhance the service offering?
Well, in my opinion, automation of processes is one of the most important technology trends that businesses have to implement if they want to raise the bar of their customers’ satisfaction. Sure, doing things manually have advantages but we live in a fast-paced world and everybody is now looking to get things done immediately. This is exactly what automation brings to businesses – it enhances the efficiency and turnaround time for processes, saving both your and your clients’ time. At RAKEZ, we strongly believe in delivering accelerated and enhanced services to our clients.
That is why, in the recent years, we have been implementing changes in our systems and through these, we have been able to successfully simplify our processes and procedures. Our aim was to reduce general administrative tasks and speed-up daily operations, and we achieved exactly those. As I have mentioned earlier, last year we launched Portal 360 where our clients can submit documents, receive approvals, obtain a licence and so much. It also comes with an application tracking system so clients can easily check the real-time status of their service requests.
This is just one of the new applications or systems that we plan to launch in the years to come. Right now, we are on the verge of unveiling the portal for our referral agents. It works the same way as our portal for our clients but this one is customised for our referral agents. This way, we are not only providing a great experience to our clients but to our strategic partners as well.
What will be your key focus areas for 2019?
Our key focus will remain the same this year and that is to further boost the industrial sector in the emirate. Currently, manufacturing makes up to 26% of the emirate’s GDP and we have an abundant supply of natural resources in the emirate. So it is only natural that we keep on building the industry that has supported Ras Al Khaimah for many years. The industrial sector has helped the emirate remain a safe and stable investment destination amidst the economic headwinds the region has experienced in the recent years. But of course, as we do this, we are not forgetting the importance of diversification.
We will continue developing other sectors such as IT, services, education, media, trading and logistics. Logistics is one of the sectors I expect to go on an upward trend. This is because of the efforts of RAK Ports in developing its facilities, especially the Saqr Port which is currently under expansion. The first new deep-water berth was opened in 2018 and the second berth is expected to be operational on March 2019. Aside from that, Hutchison Ports has begun operating Saqr Port. Hutchison Ports has been running and developing ports for over 50 years, and it has great plans for Saqr Port. So I am forecasting significant growth in the number of vessel and cargo movements in the coming years. This presents a great opportunity for us to attract more logistics companies to set-up shop here in the emirate.
Also, since we recently launched our Media Zone, we are targeting to attract more additions to our currently over 100 media companies. As with the previous years, uplifting the standard of education in Ras Al Khaimah and the UAE in general has been among our priorities. So in 2019, we will remain working on enticing globally accredited schools and universities to our Academic Zone. Among the renowned universities in our Academic Zone are the University of Stirling, University of Bolton, University of West London, and Bath Spa University, which are all from the United Kingdom; Swiss Business School and École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL) from Switzerland; and Birla Institute of Technology from India.
What milestones have you set for 2019?
For 2019, we plan to continue enticing more entrepreneurs, startups and SMEs to Ras Al Khaimah. These businesses are the backbone of Ras Al Khaimah and the UAE’s economy. They are the drivers of growth and job creation, and enables the country to shift from capital and labour intensive economy to innovative and technology-driven economy. Being important players in all value chains, we aim to offer a nurturing business environment that serves as a perfect business incubator for SMEs to become thriving enterprises.
And of course, we would like to continue growing our industrial client portfolio as well. We will do this by continuously enhancing the infrastructure in our industrial zones, such as constructing new warehouses and more labour accommodations; extending and upgrading the road networks; creating new entry and exit gates for easier and faster movements of goods of our clients. These are what in the pipeline for us and hopefully, we can accomplish everything within the year.
What would you like to do differently in 2019, when compared with 2018?
Everything we did in 2018 turned out pretty well for us. Hence, we will not do anything differently, rather, we will try to reflect from the decisions we made in 2018 and see in which areas we can do better. One thing we will definitely use as a pillar for our improvements in 2019 is the UAE government’s declaration of 2019 as the Year of Tolerance. Upon the announcement, the topic of tolerance has sparked healthy dialogues between our leaders in RAKEZ regarding what we can do to encourage the spirit of tolerance and harmony. Right now, we are evaluating various ideas which can make the environment we offer to our clients friendlier and more understanding in their individual situations.
Any other info you would like to add?
RAKEZ furnishes clients with a suite of offerings that help them in their business journey. But you know what sets us apart from other investment hubs? It’s our strong commitment to our investors. This is among the many reasons that encourages investors to set up their business with us. We treat them as family and make sure we are right beside them every step of the way. We are continuously striving to enhance the level of ‘ease of doing’ business in the environment that we offer to our clients.
We are doing our best to simplify our processes as well as offer them quick turnaround time for results. Apart from that, we are making an ongoing effort to implement corporate governance according to global standards to allow increased transparency and reduced bureaucracy, and provide our clients a seamless experience. Cost-effectiveness is RAKEZ’s another strength over its competitors. We are blessed to be strategically located in Ras Al Khaimah where the cost of living and operating a business is up to 50% lower.
With this, we are able to come up with comprehensive solutions without putting a high price tag, especially for the startups and entrepreneurs. This quality makes RAKEZ an ideal business incubator to the SME community. Investors who choose to base their company in RAKEZ get to save on hefty startup costs and at the same time, gain higher return on investments while enjoying the business-friendly environment that RAKEZ has to offer.
And of course, the third key benefit that we offer is the ability to customise. As I always say, customisation is key. Investors now are not after ready-made solutions. They are opting for what suits their needs and what will provide them with value for their money. Hence, we allow our existing and potential clients to explore our offerings and give them the option to adjust them in a way that would match the requirements of their business.