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Calling all nerds, Part I

Calling all nerds, Part I

With few signs of homegrown Silicon Valleys on the horizon, Gulf states are spending billions more to attract high-tech knowhow, Part I.

June 9, 2009 11:22 by

Microscopic returns. In the UAE, Dubai is adding Silicon Oasis, billed as a magnet for software developers, and Dubiotech, a potential hub for life sciences firms, to its slew of industry clusters (each one costing several hundred million dollars to build, is adorned with attractive tax-free perks). Abu Dhabi is also spending $22 billion to create Masdar City, an imagined community of 40,000 that’s expected to grow into a leading center of green-energy research and commercialization.

Elsewhere, the $600 million Qatar Science and Technology Park in Doha was inaugurated in March. And on Saudi Arabia’s west coast, workers are building the King Abdullah University for Science and Technology, which is slated to house the world’s sixth most powerful supercomputer, as well as 20,000 students, staff and faculty when finished.

But there are few signs yet that Middle East-made Microsofts will flourish along the Gulf. Not because of a lack of effort, but because other corners of the world have enjoyed a giant head start in the global competition for prowess in high-tech production, while the GCC has had to start more or less from scratch. South Korea registered 10,260 US patents between 2005 and 2006, for example. The UAE registered 11.

“The problem is other regions are progressing even faster. … Gulf states are going to have to work very hard not to fall further behind,” says Kristin Lord, the author of a 2008 report that measured how far Middle East countries have come towards building knowledge-based societies in recent years. “Investments haven’t always paid off. So one of the questions the report raises is, will these be different?”

First seen in Trends magazine.

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