With attractive business facilities and a slew of lifestyle options, Ajman is emerging as an appealing business and lifestyle hub Image Credit: Gulf News archives

With a new free zone and networking roadshows marketing its new business offerings, Ajman has broadened its appeal to investors from around the world. The moves are in line with the emirate’s Vision 2021 strategy. Approved in May, it centres around improving governance, tourism, infrastructure and the environment to ensure a sustainable economy and provide a better quality of life for residents.

A raft of retail and real estate projects are already in place and attention has now turned to bringing in new investors and inhabitants. Through its proximity to the economic hubs of Dubai and Sharjah, easy access to the rest of the Arabian Gulf, and comparatively low set-up costs, Ajman has created an investment-ready climate and is emerging as an appealing business and lifestyle hub for both resident expatriates and international entrepreneurs.

Investor solutions

The Ajman Free Zone has taken the lead on this front, broadening its area of operations in response to the Vision 2021 goals and to meet the demands of the digital economy. The zone has announced representative offices in Europe and Asia and recently welcomed investment delegations from China, Japan, Korea and the UK. Visitors are also wooed through a presence at trade fairs across the country, while university events encourage entrepreneurially minded students to take the plunge.

As part of Ajman Vision 2021 and the greater UAE vision 2030, the free zone has become more future-focused and is investing heavily in diversifying its portfolio in areas such as advanced technology, artificial intelligence and nanotechnology, as well as in education, health and retail.

- Fatma Salem, Acting Director General of Ajman Free Zone (AFZ)

“We have witnessed a steady increase in foreign investment in the second half of 2018, which reflects the strengthening business environment in the region,” says Fatma Salem, Acting Director General of Ajman Free Zone (AFZ). “As part of Ajman Vision 2021 and the greater UAE vision 2030, the free zone has become more future-focused and is investing heavily in diversifying its portfolio in areas such as advanced technology, artificial intelligence and nanotechnology, as well as in education, health and retail.

These new target sectors and partnerships aim to not only attract new business but equally important, create a dynamic and holistic environment for the Emirate of Ajman – one with greater access to international markets and a bigger opportunity for collaboration.”

The AFZ is also targeting digitally mobile and geographically agnostic business owners. In October, Shaikh Ahmad Bin Humaid Al Nuaimi, Chairman of the AFZ, launched an enhanced customer portal that offers access to all the authority’s services from anywhere in the world, reducing transaction times and eliminating the need to visit the free zone personally. “Ajman Free Zone has gone 100 per cent digital in October, with the launch of a new website, enhanced customer portal and mobile app which will be released in January,” Salem says. “All of our services are now available online and we have partnered with Zajel to offer a document collection and delivery service to make doing business even more convenient for our investors.”

Other bodies across the emirate have similarly ramped up efforts to attract new enterprises. In the summer, the new Ajman Media Free Zone abolished all visa-related security deposits for companies setting up under its sponsorship. “We want new business owners to receive significant cost advantage and make it easier for them to set up a new business in the UAE,” Shaikh Abdul Aziz Bin Humaid Al Nuaimi, Chairman of Ajman Media City Free Zone, said ahead of the zone’s official launch. Last month, the emirate’s Department of Economic Development (DED) launched its latest project, ‘In Ajman’, a marketing and media initiative aimed at supporting local companies and key projects while strengthening the government’s relations with investors and business owners. The moves are in line with recent federal plans to spur business growth as digital disruption affects traditional trading sectors and the nation diversifies away from an oil economy towards a knowledge economy over the next decade.

Earlier this year, a DED survey said business confidence had risen to 116 in the first half of 2018 as compared to the same period in 2016. The department attributed the jump to increased demand, vibrant construction opportunities, robust exports and higher tourist arrivals. Among the local businesses to feel the impact is the Fairmont Ajman, which is now hosting more meetings and events in addition to catering to more upscale leisure visitors. “As one of the key tourism partners in this emirate, we have benefited considerably, for example, from the emirate’s increasing popularity for weddings in the UAE, [with] the quality of our culinary offerings being another attractive factor,” says General Manager, Francis Desjardins.

As one of the key tourism partners in this emirate, we have benefited considerably, for example, from the emirate’s increasing popularity for weddings in the UAE, [with] the quality of our culinary offerings being another attractive factor.

- Francis Desjardins, General Manager, Fairmont Ajman

Economic anchors

He points to several projects that are transforming Ajman while maintaining its authentic appeal — all part of the emirate’s broader strategic plan. In the first quarter of this year, Marina 1 opened at the 5.4 million square metre mixed-use Al Zorah development. Last December, Ajman Holding launched Mirkaaz, a Dh500-million shopping destination planned to open late in 2019. Meanwhile, building work has also been progressing along the emirate’s waterfront as part of a multiphase regeneration.

The retail strip Marsa Ajman is also reportedly on schedule. Thanks to its vibrant Arabian heritage, Ajman has long been an alternative for residents in search of a finer work-life balance, and a popular destination for tourists looking to venture off the beaten track. With a sustainable approach to economic growth that yields tangible benefits for its residents, the emirate could soon be the next development success story.

Playing a distinct role in Ajman’s economy

Mohamed Amiri, CEO of Ajman Bank, talks about the bank’s operations and how it supports entrepreneurship. Excerpts

How has business in Ajman Bank picked up in 2018 and what is the outlook for 2019?

At Ajman Bank in 2018, we have signed and implemented many projects, with continued pace of growth in Islamic finances. We are witnessing a steady shift towards Islamic banking and Ajman Bank continues to enjoy the confidence of customers and investors due to the low levels of risk and the adoption of new plans and procedures in product development and expansion of the banking services provided.

Ajman Bank will continue to achieve its long-term vision to become a leading banking brand for the UAE’s preferred financial services initially, and in the rest of the GCC at a later stage. This vision will enable Ajman Bank to provide sustainable value to our shareholders and high-level services to our clients and enable us to play a distinct role in the development of the Ajman economy and the UAE economy in general. Ajman Bank’s stability will enhance customer confidence and encourage efforts to enhance retail and corporate banking, and develop new investment products and banking services.

We are witnessing a steady shift towards Islamic banking and Ajman Bank continues to enjoy the confidence of customers and investors due to the low levels of risk and the adoption of new plans and procedures in product development and expansion of the banking services provided.

- Mohamed Amiri, CEO of Ajman Bank

What special deals or offerings do you have for new companies/ entrepreneurs setting up in Ajman?

The strategic objective of Ajman Bank Business Banking is to support the UAE’s SME sector and to meet their growing demands for more Sharia-inspired and customised banking. It furthers the bank’s expansion strategy of increasing its customer segments while simultaneously contributing to the growth of the SME sector. Our special deals or offerings for new companies include transactional banking solution, commercial property mortgage finance solution and trade finance solution.

How does the bank support entrepreneurs?

Ajman Bank offers the Sharia-compliant, multi-currency Ajman Bank Business Current Account for small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) in the UAE. Ajman Bank continues to provide products and services to entrepreneurs in the UAE, to help them grow and enhance their businesses. In providing funding for particular projects or trade transactions, the bank’s goal is to ensure that the transaction is successfully carried out. In addition, the bank offers skilled trade and cash-management specialists, as well as the services of its subsidiary, Ajman Bank Business Banking, all with the ultimate goal of helping customers grow their businesses and expand their market share.