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Transforming a holy city

KEC Madinah: transforming a holy city into a knowledge economy 

For officials at Saudi Arabia's Knowledge Economic City (KEC) in Madinah (the home of the Prophet Muhammad and site where the Qur'an was compiled), proximity to the Holy Mosque brings more opportunities than challenges. The project is primarily intended to attract knowledge-based industries to the Kingdom through a mixture of high-quality technology infrastructure and supportive regulation. But the site also sits on the main route between the city's airport (soon to be expanded into an International facility) and the Holy Mosque just five kilometers from the western edge of the complex. As such, KEC expects to become a major transit route for many of the pilgrims that come through the city, and an attractive location for Islamic businesses and professionals.

Developing connections

One of the biggest challenges facing the KEC planners is how to develop a world-class IT infrastructure and utilities system within an existing grid with established infrastructure. For this, KEC has partnered with the major utility providers to provide trunk connections between the site and the city network.


They are also working closely with Madinah authorities to develop projects that drive value for the region, such as a mass transit system that connects KEC, the airport, the old city and the new train station (which itself links Jeddah, Mecca and Madinah). "By taking this approach, we also enhance service to areas surrounding KEC," added Dr. Sami Baroum, Chairman of KEC. "So we are helping both the city and the utilities to reduce the investment needed to service the wider city at the same time as helping them connect world-class infrastructure for KEC."

Maintaining competitive advantage

Building a new city from the ground up requires Dr. Baroum's team to carefully prioritize their infrastructure development, particularly for technology. This means not only selecting the best combination of projects to encourage development and increase land values, but also approaching development in a modular fashion to ensure that new technologies and innovations can be embedded in future phases to help the city keep pace with technological change.


The company is also taking a pragmatic approach to attracting investors. For example, the team has examined the future social infrastructure needs of the city (such as schools, hospitals and museums), and has developed unique partnerships to encourage investment in sectors normally seen as a loss leader. "We recognize the importance of these services and facilities as value creators for a new city," notes Dr. Baroum. "So we are putting a lot of effort towards developing the investment proposition by donating land, developing operating models and drawing up business cases."

Sharp focus on the goal

But most importantly, the team is making all of their decisions from the point of view of what will ultimately provide the most value to the tenants and developers of the Knowledge Economic City itself. "Providing an environment that supports knowledge-based industries is the central focus of our efforts," added Dr. Baroum. "So we decided early on that we are not in business to develop villas, retail shops and hotels, but rather to focus on the underlying technology and infrastructure that will make the city a more attractive place to invest. If we can achieve that, then the rest should largely sort itself out."

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