The potential for Puget Sound businesses trading with the United Arab Emirates is full of possibilities, guest columnists Tayloe Washburn and Aaron Reardon suggest. The two men recently led 83 civic leaders on an international study mission sponsored by the Greater Seattle Chamber of Commerce and the Trade Development Alliance.
IMAGINE an international market where Boeing and Microsoft have regional headquarters, where the University of Washington runs a training program, and where several Seattle architectural firms are engaged in large projects.
Now imagine that this international market was nothing but sand 30 years ago, that one of the principal cities has a sovereign wealth fund of nearly $300 billion, and that they are positioning their region to be a global center in finance, air transportation, culture and tourism.
Fortunately for our region, which has one in three jobs tied to international trade, this is no mirage. Such an economic oasis exists in Abu Dhabi and Dubai in the United Arab Emirates (U.A.E.). Recently, 83 civic leaders from the Puget Sound region spent 10 days there on an international study mission. The mission, sponsored by the Greater Seattle Chamber of Commerce and the Trade Development Alliance, represents one of the largest and longest of its kind to the U.A.E.
Despite the differences between our two regions, it was easy to feel at home with such a large Northwest presence there. In fact, Washington state is the largest exporter of any U.S. state to the Emirates; the U.A.E. is our sixth-largest export market.
Abu Dhabi and Dubai, which already were working to diversify their economy and prepare for a changing world, are better placed to deal with the current economic slowdown than most. We see the opportunity for partnerships in developing renewable energy, biotechnology and aerospace innovation, as well as education and training opportunities. Indeed, Boeing offers a great example of the opportunities to enhance our relationship with the U.A.E. The region’s major airlines — Emirates Air, Qatar Airways and Etihad Airways — are expected to more than triple their current fleet size by 2015. We also discussed with both U.A.E. airlines the possibility of opening up direct routes to Seattle.
In addition, there is much to learn from the U.A.E., particularly from the region’s renewable-energy projects and commitment to innovation. Abu Dhabi is creating a large-scale area, known as Masdar City, where companies from all over the world will locate to develop renewable-energy breakthroughs while creating a carbon-neutral community of 90,000. And in Dubai, clusters of companies and educational institutions are forming in Health Care City, Media City, Internet City and Knowledge Village.
Business in the Arab world — as in Asia, but perhaps even more so — is built on trusted relationships.
The size and composition of our delegation was noticed by Emiratis, opening doors to the highest levels and creating the basis for future relationship building. Mohammed Omar Abdullah, undersecretary for the department of economy and planning for the U.A.E., spoke to our group about our two regions building a “friendship bridge.”
We met with numerous other U.A.E. business and government leaders and were treated to incredible displays of hospitality. For example, U.A.E. Prime Minister and Vice President Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum met with our group and personally signed his book of poetry for each member of the delegation. We also received the special honor of hearing from Mohamed Bin Ali Alabbar, a graduate of Bellevue Community College and Seattle University and the developer of the Burj Dubai, the tallest building in the world.
Abu Dhabi and Dubai are committed to innovation, education, economic development and growth. We would be wise to join forces with them. The list of follow-up items from the trip is almost as long as the Burj Dubai is tall. The Greater Seattle Chamber and Trade Alliance will build on this foundation, cementing cultural and economic ties and positioning our region as a gateway to these cities and the broader Arab world.
Tayloe Washburn, left, is a land-use attorney with Foster Pepper PLLC and chair of the Greater Seattle Chamber of Commerce. Aaron Reardon is Snohomish County Executive. The two were co-leaders on the study mission.