Broad horizons: overseas expansion

Having access to emerging markets is proving vital for many growing businesses and overseas offices are increasingly regarded as a smart move, as Vision finds out

The 2008 financial crisis has taught businesses and investors a humbling lesson of Darwinism: adapt – or face oblivion. “It is not the strongest species that survive, nor the most intelligent, but the ones most responsive to change,” the English Naturalist famously said.

When growth is faltering or even totally stalling at home, like it did in many mature economies in the wake of the credit crunch, tapping into emerging markets with attractive growth rates is not just an option but also a necessity.

“No country in the past half century has maintained high levels of growth and significantly increased income per capita without greatly expanding its imports and exports,” noted Regus, the global work solutions provider, in a January 2012 report entitled The Export Imperative.

“The more companies expand and diversify outside their domestic markets, the more productive they are likely to be, making a significant contribution to the vibrancy and stability of the global economy,” it added.

Small and large businesses looking for growth during the downturn have had to reach out to overseas markets to flaunt their goods or services to – and even, in some cases, migrate.

Dubai’s free zones, which offer tax exemptions and 100 per cent foreign ownership, are proving increasingly attractive to overseas investors, who cite crushing tax rates, invasive bureaucracy or rigid working conditions as the main barriers to establishing a flourishing business at home.

In the first half of this year alone, about 95 per cent of the 1,270 newly registered companies at the Dubai Multi-Commodities Center Authority (DMCC) were newcomers to Dubai. About one-third of those companies were from other parts of the Middle East, while South Asia, the Americas and the UK accounted for 28 per cent, 14 per cent and 14 per cent respectively.

"The first six months of 2013 further demonstrate DMCC's strength and commitment to establishing Dubai as the global hub for commodities trade and enterprise. With an average of 200 new companies joining DMCC every single month, 95 per cent of which are new to Dubai, DMCC will be the largest free zone in the UAE before the year end,” said DMCC's executive chairman, Ahmad bin Sulayem.

To meet growing demand, DMCC’s future development plans include a business park and the world's tallest commercial tower. Thanks to all these initiatives, Dubai could top the league of the Middle East and Africa’s most competitive cities by 2025, according to a recent report from the Economist Intelligence Unit.