11 Interesting Facts about NEOM, Saudi’s proposed Mega City

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NEOM Saudi Arabia

“No separate ways of thinking, no divisions, no restrictions”. These are the opening lines of Saudi’s NEOM’s trailer. Women in modern clothes, clean energy sources and a lot of open mindedness — NEOM, Saudi Arabia’s $500 billion mega city has got all the ingredients to become the next global hub bringing together the best of Arabia, Asia, Africa, Europe and America. 

NEOM, the newly announced $500-billion futuristic city in Saudi aims to redefine the country, region and beyond.

  1. The word NEOM means ‘New Future’ in Arabic, signifying the new and unprecedented future city.
  2. NEOM will focus on nine specialized investment sectors and living conditions that will drive the future of human civilization, energy and water, mobility, biotech, food, technological & digital sciences, advanced manufacturing, media, and entertainment with livability as its foundation
  3. NEOM aspires to be the safest, most efficient, most future oriented, and best place to live and work
  4. NEOM will be independent of the Kingdom’s existing governmental framework with investors, businesses, and innovators consulted at every stage of development. In other words, NEOM will have a lot of independence when it comes to law and regulations, except sovereignty.
  5. NEOM’s unique geographic location with easy access to Asia, Europe, and Africa
  6. The size of NEOM will be over 26,500 sq. km.
  7. NEOM will be world’s first private zone spanning three countries, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Jordan
  8. NEOM’s launch, announced by the reformist Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, is born from the ambition of Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030 to see the country develop into a pioneering and thriving model of excellence in various and important areas of life.
  9. The multi-billion dollar project aims to thrive the transformation of the Kingdom into a leading global hub through the introduction of value chains of industry and technology.
  10. NEOM banks on private as well as public investments and partnerships.

If you are wondering what the 11th reason could be, it would be open-minded people like you and us.

Infographic: A Glimpse into NEOM, Sci-Fi City

A glimpse into NEOM, Saudi Arabia's newly announced futuristic development. Image courtesy-NEOM/Arabian Gazette
A glimpse into NEOM, Saudi Arabia’s newly announced futuristic development. Image courtesy-NEOM

No doubt NEOM is the flagship project of the 2030 vision. Speaking to the Dubai Eye Radio 103.8 during Business Breakfast Show, Richard Thomson of MEED said: “The sheer scale and size of the mega project is something the region has never seen before.”

NEOM – Core Focus Sectors

NEOM will focus on nine specialized investment sectors and living conditions that will drive the future of human civilization, energy and water, mobility, biotech, food, technological & digital sciences, advanced manufacturing, media, and entertainment with livability as its foundation.

The carefully chosen sectors are expected to be the growth engines, stimulating economic growth and diversification by nurturing international innovation and manufacturing, to drive local industry, job creation, and GDP growth in the Kingdom.

Despite a $646 billion economy, Saudi Arabia’s unemployment stood at 12.7 percent in Q1 of 2017, continuing its steady climb as the economy struggles with the prevailing low oil prices.

NEOM banks on private as well as public investments and partnerships.

“NEOM will be backed by more than $500 billion over the coming years by the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, the Saudi Arabian Public Investment Fund, local as well as international investors”, said Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

Geographic Advantages

NEOM’s location is undoubtedly unique and has got the potential to bring together the best of Arabia, Asia, Africa, Europe and America. NEOM resides in the Northwestern region of Saudi Arabia, and spans over 26,500 km2. Overlooking the waterfront of the Red Sea to the South and the West, and the Gulf of Aqaba, NEOM enjoys an uninterrupted coastline stretching over 468 km, with a dramatic mountain backdrop rising to 2,500 m to the East. The wind and sun will allow NEOM to be powered solely by regenerative energy.

NEOM location map
NEOM’s strategic location could potentially make it a hub connecting Asia, Africa and Europe.

NEOM is situated on one of the world’s most prominent economic arteries, through which nearly a tenth of the world’s trade flows. Its strategic location will also facilitate the zone’s rapid emergence as a global hub that connects Asia, Europe and Africa, enabling 70% of the world’s population to reach it in under eight hours, which brings the potential to combine the best of major global regions in terms of knowledge, technology, research, teaching, learning, living and working.

The site will also become the main entrance to the King Salman Bridge, linking Asia and Africa, which will add to the zone’s economic significance. NEOM’s land mass will extend across the Egyptian and Jordanian borders, rendering NEOM the first private zone to span three countries.

NEOM – Saudi Arabia’s Future Commerce Capital

Investments and financing will play a vital role in NEOM, set to be spearheaded by the Kingdom’s economy and supported by PIF – a major global fund with access to a worldwide network of investors and major companies — set to be brought onboard to drive the success of NEOM.

With the ambition of becoming one of the world’s future economic and scientific capitals, in addition to being the future commerce capital of Saudi Arabia, NEOM is set to attract new foreign direct investment that will contribute to PIF’s long-term growth strategy aimed at strengthening the Saudi Arabian economy.

A new regulatory framework to spur innovation and creativity

NEOM is developed to be independent of the Kingdom’s existing governmental framework, excluding sovereignty. NEOM will adopt a regulatory framework that fosters technological as well as societal innovation and entrepreneurship in accordance with international best practices. Investors, businesses, and innovators will be consulted at every step of the development in how best to create the economic framework, design the urban plans, and attract top quality talent that will drive the growth of this zone and its resident population.

NEOM will be constructed from the ground-up, on greenfield sites, allowing it a unique opportunity to be distinguished from all other places that have been developed and constructed over hundreds of years and we will use this opportunity to build a new way of life with excellent economic prospects.

Future technologies form the cornerstone for NEOM’s development: Disruptive solutions for transportation from automated driving to passenger drones, new ways of growing and processing food, healthcare centered around the patient for their holistic well-being, wireless high speed internet as a free good called “digital air”, free world-class continuous online education, full scale e-governance putting city services at your fingertips, building codes that make net-zero carbon houses the standard, a city layout that encourages walking and bicycling and all solely powered by renewable energy.

NEOM – Fully Automated City

NEOM will achieve its ambitious goals of becoming among the top secure areas in the world – if not the most–by adopting the future technologies in the fields of security and safety. This will raise the standards of public life activities and ensure the safety and protection of residents, visitors, and investors.

All services and processes in NEOM will be 100% fully automated, with the goal of becoming the most efficient destination in the world, and in turn be implemented on all activities such as legal, government, and investment procedures among others. Additionally, NEOM will be subject to the highest sustainability standards, and will provide all transactions, procedures, and claims through paperless and electronic means.

A new concept for the workforce will be implemented, based on attracting high-caliber human resources with unique competencies for full-time innovation, decision making and business leadership. Repetitive and arduous tasks will be fully automated and handled by robots, which may exceed the population, likely making the NEOM’s GDP per capita the highest in the world. All these elements will put NEOM at the world’s forefront in terms of efficiency which will make it the best destination in the world to live in.

Major Challenges to NEOM and Saudi Arabia

Despite a lot of optimism in general, especially with the new reforms spearheaded by Saudi Crown Prince, there are quite a few challenges ahead for the country trying to get out of the ‘closed and confined’ economy.

Saudi Arabia’s main resource is also the women who make up for 50% of population which, unfortunately, is under-utilized. To critics, this phenomenon is not restricted to Saudi alone. Even Japan has a similar problem with the highest educationally attained women not being tapped. With projects like NEOM, it’s imperative that young people, especially women, need to be educated accordingly so that they can join the country’s workforce and contribute towards economy.

In the 2017 World Bank Business Ranking, Saudi Arabia is stuck at 92, while in comparison, the UAE is at 21 beating even Switzerland which stood at 33.

Dr Marie Owens Thomsen, Global Head of Investment Intelligence at Indosuez Wealth Management told the Business Breakfast that “Saudi Arabia has seen two successive negative quarters of growth because of economic stagnation, mainly due to low oil prices. Switzerland has lost 15 ranks over the last few years by standing rather stagnant. This is an illustration of what happens when the economy stands still. We need to run to stay in same place.”

Therefore, first and foremost task is to build the investor confidence. Towards that, Saudi has taken initiated several positive steps including:

-Passing a decree allowing women to drive
-Easier visa entry rules for foreigners
-The Aramco IPO
Women being allowed into sports stadium
-Prince Salman’s statement about Saudi embracing moderate Islam
High-speed railway across the Kingdom
Metros in the major cities

All of these measures are seen as the positive reforms and some are ‘seismic shifts’ the kingdom is undergoing to boost the economy. We can expect to see a lot of new regulations, framework and people.

Last, but not the least, despite the bold ambitions, we all know execution is everything.

But, the momentum is building up, visionary leadership is in place, and we hope NEOM changes the future of Saudi Arabia, its people and the region for better.

(With additional inputs by Mahsoom Thottathil)

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