Ajman Free Zone is looking at a significant expansion of businesses operating from it. Image Credit: Virendra Saklani/Gulf News

Dubai: Ajman Free Zone has ambitious plans to double the count of new company registrations by the close of 2024, a top official with the Ajman Free Zones Authority has said.

The free zone witnessed nearly 5,000 new company registrations in 2023, with a significant portion coming from small and medium enterprises (SMEs) in various sectors such as IT, digital, consultancies, marketing, freelancers, industry, storage, and business process outsourcing (BPO), said Ismail Al Naqi, the Director General of the Free Zones Authority of Ajman.

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Speaking to Gulf News at the sidelines of the 'Doing Business in the UAE' seminar on Tuesday, Al Naqi outlined the growth forecast, indicating a strategic alignment with the country's direction to attract companies engaged in agri-tech, new technology, digital assets, and advanced artificial intelligence (AI). He said, “There is rising interest in these trends within the market.”

In line with the achievements from last year, the Ajman Free Zone Authority is actively considering the establishment of multiple new free zones in the coming year.

Watch: Ismail Al Naqi, Director General of Free Zone Authority of Ajman reveals the free zone's 2024 plans, including doubling the new company registration count and launching a university cluster and a business process outsourcing hub. Virendra Saklani/Gulf News

University cluster, BPO hub

Additionally, plans are underway to create an academic cluster in collaboration with university partners. The Authority is also focusing on introducing new BPO services, aiming to position Ajman as an outsourcing destination.

"Creating an outsourcing destination in Ajman is another area we will explore because Ajman's offerings perfectly fit this space. We have seen quite an interesting number of companies in this sector express their interest in expanding their operations to Ajman," said Al Naqi.

He said the strategic advantages of Ajman Free Zone, including its proximity to Dubai, pro-business environment, and its ‘affordable status as an Emirate’ give it a competitive edge over the 40-plus free zones in the country.

He said, “Historically, Ajman has been known for being an affordable city, and when we look at businesses, we don’t only look at the cost of setting up business licenses. It is the total cost of ownership.”

Al Naqi explained that businesses are considering potential cost reductions, including schooling solutions. “When you put all that together, Ajman becomes the most competitive place, especially in light of the current global situation. Simultaneously, as we analyse this, we aim to reverse engineer what a potential investor or entrepreneur seeks. They are looking for ease in obtaining a residency visa, opening a bank account, and space flexibility,” he said.

One-click license

Al Naqi said the free zone authority launched a ‘one-click license' solution for new business registrations last week. “I would consider this possibly the fastest license issuance (process) globally. It's almost like a one-click license. You come to our offices, order your coffee, and by the time you finish your coffee, your license is in your hands,” he explained.

Moreover, the Authority has designed packages collaborating with entrepreneurs to add further value and create unicorns in the UAE. “We aspire to be part of this journey for the entrepreneur,” he explained.

Geopolitical challenges

Commenting on whether escalating geopolitical tensions would put a dent in foreign direct investment (FDI) inflows into the country in 2024, Al Naqi said this would not be the case, as UAE has consistently positioned itself as a stable and thriving destination during times of tension. “Over the past 20 to 30 years, the UAE has become an attractive and secure alternative for individuals or parties seeking peace and stability.”

Be ruthless, consistent and persistent with empathy and sympathy to be successful at business.

- Ismail Al Naqi of Ajman's Free Zones Authority

The United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) announced a noticeable increase of 28 per cent in new foreign investment projects in the UAE in 2023 compared to the previous year. The country has set ambitious targets to attract $150 billion in FDI by 2031.

Al Naqi said the UAE has embraced the new normal post-pandemic, shifting focus from aggressively pursuing multinational companies to actively seeking talent and entrepreneurs who can live and work from anywhere.

“Deregulation in telecommunications, particularly in BPO and Voice over IP telephony, has enabled more flexibility. The UAE's appeal goes beyond regulation, emphasizing a high quality of life, education, healthcare, infrastructure, and connectivity,” he said.

Moreover, the Free Zone has achieved an all-time high occupancy level in its real estate portfolio, said Al Naqi. When asked about the current real estate boom in the UAE, Al Naqi said a new segment has been unlocked, where UAE is attracting high-net-worth individuals unlike ever before. “Also, UAE residents are moving from apartments to townhouses. This growth is organic and sustainable,” he said. Al Naqi anticipates a further uptick, with declining interest rates making mortgages more attractive.