The GCC in six stats – and why the powerhouse region is waiting for you

The Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) region is a powerhouse. Comprised of six countries – Saudi Arabia, UAE, Kuwait, Qatar, Oman, and Bahrain – it’s an area of the Middle East that boasts future-focused government initiatives, booming economies and giant leaps towards sustainability. At least, that’s what we hear. But what do the numbers tell us? Do they really back up this claim?

Here, we’ll look at six key stats and put them under the microscope to try to understand just why the GCC is such a vital business hub, and why so many entrepreneurs are selecting it to set up their new businesses.

1. GDP was two trillion dollars last year

That’s an impressive number for the GCC region, but it’s not the figure to focus on, because the World Bank estimates that by 2050 that number will be tripled.

So, what’s the source of this GDP? Well, you can’t really discuss the Gulf economies without addressing its vast oil reserves. Saudi Arabia, as the largest economy in the region, produced 12.14 million barrels per day last year. This immense output places the region firmly at the centre of the world’s oil production, significantly influencing global energy markets.

While the region will continue to produce jobs in the oil sector for some time to come, the move away from oil dependency (which we will cover next) is where entrepreneurs should look when it comes to the brightest opportunities.

2. Green initiatives could boost GDP to USD 13 trillion

Yes, that huge figure is right. While the ‘business as usual’ projection by the World Bank is that the region’s GDP will triple by 2050, it could in fact increase six-fold if sustainability initiatives are implemented correctly and at scale.

In recent years, the GCC has made impressive strides in this direction, signalling a shift towards a greener and more environmentally conscious future. This commitment to sustainability is not only vital for addressing global environmental challenges but also has implications for job creation and economic growth. The GCC’s commitment to sustainability is underpinned by strategic national agendas, such as Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030 and the UAE’s Energy Strategy 2050.

Recognising the fact that oil is finite, along with the urgent need to reduce carbon emissions, the GCC countries have embarked on ambitious renewable energy initiatives. Solar energy, in particular, has emerged as a beacon of hope, leveraging the region’s abundant sunlight to harness clean and renewable power. The UAE’s Noor Abu Dhabi Solar Plant, one of the world’s largest solar installations, and Saudi Arabia’s plans for massive solar projects demonstrate the region’s dedication to harnessing sustainable energy sources.

This transition to renewable energy sources has a major effect on job creation. As the GCC invests in renewable energy infrastructure, it creates a demand for specialised skills, from engineers and project managers to technicians and researchers. The development, installation, and maintenance of solar panels, wind turbines, and other clean energy technologies will only boost the job market.

So, sustainability has become a driving force for entrepreneurship and innovation. Startups and businesses focusing on eco-friendly products and sustainable technologies are gaining traction across the GCC. These ventures not only contribute to environmental preservation but also tap into a growing market demand for sustainable products and services, thus creating new avenues for job seekers and entrepreneurs alike.

3. GCC population hit 56 million in 2021

The population of the GCC has almost doubled since 1995, when it was 26 million. Approximately half of the total GCC population is made up of expats. Taking the UAE as an example, the countries with the most expats in the Emirates are India (2.8 million) and Pakistan (1.3 million). In terms of Western expats, the figure in the UAE is around 500,000. In Saudi Arabia there are around 13 million expats, compared to 19 million Saudi nationals.

Why so many expats? That’s what we’ll look at next.

4. GCC dominates the Top 10 destinations for expats

GCC countries occupy five of the top 10 places globally where expatriates find it easiest to settle. The report examined four main areas, including affordability of housing, language barriers, digital infrastructure, and ease of doing day-to-day admin. Then we can add to this the very attractive lifestyle and ease of doing business. Plus, setting up a company in the UAE in particular is remarkably straightforward.

Recognising the need to reduce dependency on oil, the UAE has transformed into a global hub for technology and innovation. Dubai’s free zones have attracted numerous multinational companies, contributing significantly to the country’s non-oil GDP. Similarly, Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030 initiative aims to reduce the country’s reliance on oil by fostering entrepreneurship and diversifying its economy. As a result, we’ve witnessed a surge in startups and tech-driven ventures across the region and so more and more opportunities for entrepreneurs.

5. The urbanisation rate for GCC countries is 80% or higher

Urbanisation is a defining feature of the GCC region, with towering skyscrapers and modern infrastructure shaping its landscape. The population growth in these urban centres has been nothing short of astonishing. In recent decades, cities like Dubai and Doha have experienced high population growth rates, often surpassing the global average.

Initiatives such as the Dubai 2040 Urban Master Plan are in place to ensure that the growth of sustainable living and working environments are made a priority, further increasing the region’s attractiveness to foreign workers. This diverse demographic landscape brings in a wealth of skills, cultures, and perspectives, which really enriches the region’s unique social fabric.

6. New jobs in GCC will rise by 5% in 2023

The GCC region’s economic dynamism has translated into job growth and employment opportunities. A new report notes that sectors including property, cyber security, and sales and marketing (as well as the public sector) are seeing a significant increase in job creation.

The allure of tax-free salaries and a luxurious lifestyle has attracted expatriates from around the world, filling roles across almost any sector you can imagine, from those listed above to the likes of finance, healthcare, and hospitality.

The future outlook

The GCC region’s main challenge has been turned into an opportunity. In an effort to reduce dependence on oil, many of the six countries are establishing aggressive plans to achieve long-term sustainability. Further diversification will allow for greater economic resilience and adaptability in the future. It’s worth noting that while the COVID-19 pandemic affected everyone, countries such as the UAE have recovered very quickly, this year beating pre-pandemic levels for total number of visitors to the country.

As the world watches the region’s economic evolution, one thing is clear: the Gulf’s story is far from over. With ongoing diversification efforts and a steadfast commitment to progress, the GCC countries are poised to continue shaping the global economic landscape for years to come. The question is whether you’re ready to join this fast-paced, dynamic region and make your own contribution to its future?

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