Promoting Knowledge Through Madinah Economic City
P.K. Abdul Ghafour - 6 December 2006
The Knowledge Economic City (KEC) planned for Madinah stands out among the Kingdom’s economic cities because of its goal of promoting knowledge-based industries (KBIs). The new city will have a technological and economic information center, a campus for medical research and bio-sciences and a center for studies in Islamic civilization.
The project is the third economic city in the Kingdom initiated by the Saudi Arabian General Investment Authority (SAGIA) in an aggressive bid to repatriate capital and attract value-added foreign investments.
The development is expected to take a regional high-tech direction, and thus to ease mounting pressure on the country’s existing major urban areas. The KEC project is expected to attract investments worth more than SR25 billion ($6.7 billion) and create nearly 25,000 new jobs.
The choice of Madinah augurs well as the city was the seat of power and knowledge during the time of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) and his righteous caliphs. Over the centuries, it has attracted thousands of Muslim faithful from around world, who came to the city seeking knowledge and wanting to live in the vicinity of the Prophet’s Mosque.
Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah launched the KEC on June 18, 2006, while on a tour of the region. SAGIA played a pivotal role in the conceptualization of the project. “The king’s vision for an economic city based on KBI is a forward-looking step. The project will boost the region’s chances of attracting investments in order to overhaul services in Madinah,” says Amr Dabbagh, governor of SAGIA. “This vital project falls within plans to upgrade the Kingdom’s regions in a sustainable fashion, taking into consideration each one’s competitive advantages. Given Madinah’s historic position as the launch-pad of Islamic culture by Prophet Muhammad more than 14 centuries ago, the KEC project is a renaissance of sorts, as Madinah will be used to launch the knowledge-based industries,” he added.
The Knowledge Economic City project is a culmination of efforts by a group of leading Saudi companies to develop just such a project to the east of Madinah designed to become an international KBI icon.
The total built-up area will reach 8.8 million square meters including 4,000 stores and 30,000 residential units housing 200,000 inhabitants. The Savola-led consortium includes PMDC, Taibah Investment & Real Estate Development and Quad International Real Estate Development as well as the King Abdullah Foundation. The project is part of SAGIA’s efforts to promote investments into the sectors that offer the best competitive advantages, namely energy, transportation, and knowledge-based industries. The KEC includes an interactive museum on the life of Prophet Muhammad.
Madinah is uniquely positioned to attract Muslim talent from all over the world, eager to live, work, retire or make extended visits to the second most sacred city in Islam. While it is rich in heritage, Madinah has already been a leader in digital economy initiatives and a pilot for e-government schemes. There are already well-established higher education institutions serving both SMET (science, mathematics, engineering, and technology) and religious segments. Madinah’s expanding economy is driven by a growing number of Haj and Umrah pilgrims. Currently 2.1 million visit the city every year and the number is expected to exceed 10 million within a decade.
The declaration of KEC as a special economic zone under the regulatory jurisdiction of SAGIA enables the city to provide an attractive and KBI-friendly business environment. The government is expected to furnish robust and adaptive regulatory and legal frameworks as well as tax incentives for the formation of venture capital companies.
The KEC project envisages an alternative central business district for Madinah with better facilities and infrastructure, one that is easily accessible to the region’s residents and visitors.
It will also be developed as a major tourist destination, supported by the unique theme park, world-class hospitality establishments and outstanding retail stores. “It will create a superior urban environment to please Madinah’s residents and visitors and to attract knowledge-related workers to also come and live and work in this city,” SAGIA says.
The new development will comprise a range of complementary zones; a technology and KBI zone; an advanced IT studies institute; an integrated medical services zone; a retail zone; a business district; residential zones including high rises, houses and fully-serviced apartments; shopping malls and a mosque with room for 10,000 worshippers. KEC will have a ring road above which will rise a monorail connecting the city to the Prophet’s Mosque. This monorail will link to the planned train station, thus tapping into railway access to Makkah, Yanbu, the King Abdullah Economic City at Rabigh as well as Jeddah.
The high-tech park, located over an area of 360,000 square meters, will contain a series of highly-equipped “smart” buildings provided with state-of-the-art IT and telecommunications infrastructure. According to SAGIA, the IT park’s areas of focus will include electronic government, distance learning, Arabic language improvement and technology, religious tourism technology and call centers. It will also support young Saudi IT entrepreneurs and small firms by providing a competitive environment in which to grow their business. The park will utilize the skilled female talent pool in the region and provide them with working opportunities.
The Center of Islamic Civilization Studies and Research, spread over an area of 205,000 square meters, will benefit from the availability of a wide variety of resources and scholars in Madinah. It will specialize in history and cultural educational programs using modern distance learning technologies, video conferencing and webcasting. It will also provide audio-video cultural programs on Islamic civilization in key languages spoken in the Islamic world as well as cross-cultural discussion panels looking at cooperation and tolerance.
The center is designed to transform Madinah’s religious and heritage strengths into modern media products that can be exchanged and circulated among Muslims worldwide. It will also be home to think-tanks tasked with working out clear strategies for building a prosperous future in the Islamic world.
The Center for Medical Sciences and Biotechnology, covering 85,000 square meters, will provide medical services to Madinah residents as well as to pilgrims coming from different parts of the world. The likely focus of biotechnology research will include the treatment of common illnesses in the Kingdom, environmental research into waste management and water treatment and a genetic engineering program to improve palm tree productivity and quality in Madinah.
The Theme Park in the KEC is being designed to give visitors of all ages, interests and cultural backgrounds an unforgettable virtual tour into the history of the Prophet’s heritage and Islamic civilization. It will include the lives of the prophets, the legacy of Prophet Muhammad, the dynasties of Islamic civilizations and the contribution of Muslim civilization to world knowledge. According to SAGIA, all activities in the theme park are using the latest multimedia, laser and digital technologies.
The Residential Zone will also have major retail area in the style of Madinah’s historic souks. The architecture of the surrounding dwellings, among which are to be two villa complexes as well as furnished apartments, will be equally traditional. Much of the area will be pedestrianized with pleasant outdoor spaces. There will also be a hotel complex with a convention center and a multipurpose hall.