Dubai’s financial free zone has recorded its best year since 2008, with its workforce swelling 14 per cent to almost 18,000.
Dubai International Financial Centre, the emirate’s financial hub, recorded a “stellar” performance last year, said the DIFC governor Essa Kazim.
“DIFC continues to be the destination of choice for regional and international financial services firms looking to access the growing opportunities available in the Middle East, Africa and South Asia,” he added.
The free zone, which celebrated its 10th anniversary last year, is now home to 1,225 companies, 18 per cent more than in 2013, that employ 17,860 people, 14 per cent more. Net commercial office space increased 15 per cent last year to 282,000 square feet.
DIFC welcomed one new member company for each working day of the year, Mr Kazim said, a growth rate only bettered by the boom year of 2008.
Non-financial firms are growing faster than financial ones, the figures showed, with an 11 per cent rise in financials outweighed by a 21 per cent jump in non-financial and an 18 per cent leap in retail firms.
“DIFC is the only centre in this broad region of more than 2.8 billion consumers that not only offers a tested, world-class legal and regulatory regime, but also a globally connected, highly rated financial services environment, a deep pool of talent and expertise, and an attractive business environment and broader city that appeals to global financial professionals,” Mr Kazim said.
New commercial leasings last year were the equivalent of leasing all the available office space in the central DIFC Gate buildings, he added.
Growth in the DIFC zone is set to continue, with a US$1 billion development within its precincts by Investment Corporation of Dubai, the emirate’s leading investment fund, in a joint venture with Canadian developer Brookfield.
The development will take place on prime land now owned by ICD at the heart of the centre. Brett Schaffer, the chief executive of DIFC property, said he was still awaiting details of the new development from the owners, but believed it would be dominated by a 50-storey building with office and retail space.
The two main DIFC-owned developments – a new office building in the Gate Village and the pedestrian per cent along the DIFC spine – were “priorities” and would be completed by 2017, Mr Shaffer added.
DIFC is also working on a new 10-year strategy that will be unveiled in the next couple of weeks, Mr Kazim said, with the aim of making DIFC more competitive in rents, telecommunications charges and other services.
The governor said DIFC had not experienced any change in demand as a result of the fall in the oil price.
On the question of increased competition from Saudi Arabia, which is soon to liberalise its financial sector, and Abu Dhabi, which is planning its own financial free zone in the Abu Dhabi Global Market, Mr Kazim said: “It is good to make the pie bigger and to provide more than one financial entry point into the region.”
DIFC raised $700 million in a sukuk during the year, and has sufficient internal financial resources to find future expansion, Mr Kazim said.
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