Countdown to NEOM

Saudi Arabia’s planned $500 billion NEOM mega-city could easily become one of the most important economic development projects in the MENA region. And Jordan would have an important part in making it a success.

The wildly ambitious NEOM business and industrial zone was unveiled by Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman at an international conference in Riyadh last month.

The project would cover 26,000-square kilometers and would extend into Jordan and Egypt. It would develop industries such as energy and water, biotechnology, food, advanced manufacturing and entertainment. It would also have its own laws and judicial system.

Jordan would benefit from the project in a number of important ways.

First and foremost, constructing a new development of this size needs logistical support. Aqaba as a special economic zone could be the main provider of such services as it is the only qualified place both from an infrastructure point of view and from a geographic proximity angle.

This, however, might need an expansion of the concept of special economic zone to cover adjacent areas all the way to Ma’an. Secondly, as Jordan is mentioned in the project as one of the concerned parties, an official engagement is needed by coordinating with the respected party in Saudi Arabia in order to be part of the implementation, as well as planning and development phases of the project.

I think we should be considered as a partner in the development, at least in understanding what needs to be done form our side. This requires a special task force comprising of both public and private sector experts to assess the socio-economic implications of the project, and to use the opportunity to capitalize on its expected benefits.

Thirdly, the project is expected to create a wide range of employment opportunities, especially for skilled labor and entrepreneurs. This is our real opportunity to absorb a substantial number of our unemployed youth who can add real value to the objective of the new city.

The project is designed to be a hub to support and enable business services in the region. This includes legal, educational, healthcare, engineering among other services, all of which Jordan is more than capable to provide. This, however, needs further preparation from our side to build the proper capacity within those services, especially in technology and soft skills.

Finally, each project has a cost benefit analysis. We really need to study those costs and benefits, so we could capitalize on the benefits and avoid negative implications if any. I am sure Jordan is officially represented in a way or another in the project. But still we need to start proper preparations for the expected role Jordan will play in the project. A task force with all expected stakeholders should be formed immediately to work on what needs to be done. If we want to get our fair share in such a project we cannot stay in the observing chair. A proactive step should start soon if we want to genuinely benefit from such a promising project.