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Do you have any updates regarding BETZ???

For all those who don't know what BETZ (Beirut Emerging Technology Zone) is, it will be the Silicon Valley of Lebanon in Damour (approx. 20 Km south of Beirut).
IDAL backed this project. It seems that it is suspended.
 

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Will Lebanon's techno-park dream ever come true?

Local mayor stands in way of betz project


By Osama Habib
Daily Star staff

Monday, September 03, 2007


BEIRUT: Lebanon is notorious for missing golden opportunities to turn itself into one of the best havens for investors in the Middle East. Foreigners often tell their Lebanese hosts that the country has great potential because of its liberal economy, strategic location, flexible investment laws and - above all - multi-talented citizens.

However, many foreign investors point out that the chronic political bickering and the lack of coordination between various branches of the state's complex apparatus have caused enormous losses to the country in terms of investment.

All of these factors apparently have played a role in the indefinite postponement of the Beirut Emerging Technology Zone (BETZ), a $30 million technology-zone project in the small town of Damour, just south of the capital. The project, which was kicked off by the Investment Development Authority of Lebanon (IDAL) in 1996 and subsequently endorsed by successive governments, has yet to see the light of day because of heavy opposition - much of it from the mayor of Damour, Charles Ghafari.

Under the plan for the project, IDAL will own 51 percent of BETZ's shares, while the remaining 49 percent will be owned by the Damour municipality. The land that will be developed will remain the property of Damour. The main facilities of BETZ will include anchor facilities for a major tenant, an incubator for start-up businesses, single- and multi-tenant subdivisions, a village center with executive suite offices, a hotel, recreational facilities, a conference center, banking facilities, an electrical sub-station with full-capacity standby power, an advanced communications network and a large landscaped area.

BETZ will cover an area of some 1 million square meters and will offer state-of-the-art facilities to meet the needs of companies ranging from local start-ups to large global corporations operating in the areas of electronics, software development, telecommunications, biotechnology, Internet, media production and various other new technology-enabled services.

According to the plan, BETZ will be professionally managed by a company under formation between IDAL and the Damour municipality, which will be entrusted with the development, financing and operations of the infrastructure and core elements of the project. Several leading companies such as Microsoft, Cisco Systems and Intel have expressed interest in BETZ but they wanted to see some kind of action from the concerned parties to start working on the project.

Already, there are dozens of small- and medium-sized Lebanese companies engaged in computer-related businesses that employ hundreds of university graduates. It is estimated that 55 percent of these companies are specialized in software, 25 percent in both hardware and software, 16 percent in hardware and the remaining 4 percent in IT-enabled services. There is currently an estimated $100 million annual turnover for the software sector, which comprises around 500 companies and a workforce of about 4,000 people.

A panel of experts was formed by then-Prime Minister Rafik Hariri's government in 1996 to assess the project. The experts noted at the time that the project failed to specify the kinds of tax exemptions, tariff reductions and facilities that would lure potential investors. ICT entrepreneurs openly voiced concern that by the time BETZ was completed it would be too late to create incentives. They stressed that promised benefits must be offered now in order to compete with other players in the region. Many also complained that there was no regulating body for the ICT sector and called for the creation of an ICT ministry.

Partly in response to this criticism, IDAL did eventually offer tax exemptions and other incentives and facilities to any potential investor in the zone.

IDAL President Nabil Itani told The Daily Star that his body and other relevant agencies have done all of the necessary groundwork on the project and have conducted extensive research and given presentations to the government, concerned ministries and the mayor of Damour.

He added that Damour had been chosen from among 25 different locations in Lebanon.

"Damour is the ideal location for BETZ because the town lies between Beirut and Sidon and the landscape is very ideal for the project," Itani explained.

But Mayor Ghafari has blocked the project, even though officials have promised that BETZ will not only create 3,000 direct jobs but will also revive the economy in the town.

Ghafari, who has been mayor since 2005, denied that he had any ulterior political motives for rejecting the BETZ project.

"I did not see a thorough study by IDAL or the government to explain the true economic benefits of the projects in Damour," Ghafari told The Daily Star.

He added that all that he has seen so far is a modest presentation by the people who are excited about the project.

"I am not objecting for the sake of objections. I am entitled to see a comprehensive study on the project and that is my view and I will stick to it," Ghafari said.

"Let them show me the detailed plans and then we can talk," Ghafari said, adding that Gulf hotspot Dubai did not build itself into one the largest business hubs in the world without first conducting proper studies.

"I am a lawyer and a mayor and for this reason I will not give my stamp of approval on any plan if it is not well-documented," he said.

He added that it was his duty as a mayor to show the studies to the people of the town because the land belongs to them.

But this argument has not persuaded IDAL and government officials.

"The mayor is wrong. Let him dig up the presentation from the archives of the municipality and he will get all the answers to his queries," Itani said.

He added that IDAL has a letter from the mayor confirming that he received a report on the project.

"IDAL met with Ghafari at the Phoenicia Hotel in Beirut] and made him a presentation along with the members of the municipality," Itani said.

He added that despite the mayor's opposition, there are no plans so far to relocate BETZ to another town or province in Lebanon.

"Damour meets all the requirements and for this reason we are not giving up on this town," Itani said.

Officials stress that major American companies contributed to the research report on BETZ.

One official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told The Daily Star that Ghafari is blocking the project until the showdown between the opposition and the government reaches a final conclusion.

"It seems that the mayor is betting on something. But God knows what is in the mind of this person," the official said.

Ironically, Ghafari's cousin supported the project when he served as a mayor of Damour before 2005.

The Daily Star quoted former Mayor Antoine Ghafari in 2002 as then saying that BETZ would give a boost to his town.

"Its main aim is to draw investments, create job opportunities in order to stop the emigration and hemorrhage of Lebanese brain power," Antoine Ghafari told The Daily Star in 2002.

As one resident of the town (who spoke on condition of anonymity) put it, however, the current mayor was elected under the slogan, "We don't allow any strangers in our town."

Druze leader Walid Jumblatt and members of Parliament representing Damour have been fighting aggressively to ensure that the project stays in the town.

Nadim Namour, one of Jumblatt's advisers, told The Daily Star that BETZ will have tremendous benefits not only to Damour but to the entire country as well. He also ridiculed the arguments of Mayor Ghafari.

"IDAL and the government wanted 1 million square meters in Damour but the mayor offered about 600,000 square meters," Namour said.

He added that apparently the municipality wanted to lease the land to the government in exchange for a fee.

Namour said that Hariri, who was assassinated in February 2005, had fought to make BETZ a reality.

"Hariri had big ambitions for Damour, but unfortunately he did not see his dreams come true," he said.

He added that the mayor wanted a small-scale project in Damour similar to Berytech, which was established in 2001 by Saint Joseph University. Berytech includes a business accelerator for start-up companies and hosting facilities for already established small- and medium-scale companies. Berytech has partnerships with European countries and it is a member of the Network of European Technical Parks.

Namour said that Jumblatt is very keen on seeing the project realized but has decided to postpone the fight for BETZ until the political picture in the country becomes more clear.

"The country is split into two camps and no one is interested in talking about projects which brings growth and prosperity to their town and village," Namour said.

He also expressed surprise over the strong opposition to the project.

"Damour is almost a forgotten town. This project will make the area the center of Lebanon in terms of IT and software development," Namour said.

The chairman of the Council for Development and Reconstruction, Nabil Jisr fears that Lebanon may waste another opportunity if BETZ is postponed again.

"Late Prime Minister Hariri went to Dubai eight years ago with a big delegation and was surprised by the ambitious goals of the emirate," said Jisr, who served as a close adviser to the former premier.

He added that Hariri wanted Lebanon to become the "Silicon Valley of the Middle East."

"Hariri believed in big ideas, but regrettably he could not push these ideas to the front due to the prevailing mentality at that time," Jisr said.

He added that since 1996, all successive governments have embraced the project in Damour without any hesitation. "We had many consultants who viewed the project and made sure that there aren't any loopholes," Jisr said.

He added that with the introduction of DSL, Lebanon is now poised to attract more IT companies.

Jisr said that time is running out and that if Lebanon does not act now it will miss an opportunity to catch up with Dubai, Jordan and Egypt, which have made great strides in the fields of IT, software development and telecommunications.

In the United Arab Emirates, the 3-square-kilometer Dubai Internet City (DIC), located between Dubai City and the Jebel Ali Free Zone, was launched in the year 2000. DIC now features a dynamic international community of ICT companies, including Microsoft, Cisco, IBM, HP, Dell, Siemens, Sun Microsystems, Computer Associates, PeopleSoft and Sony Ericsson. Many small- and medium-sized businesses and promising entrepreneurial ventures are also part of the community. DIC offers both 100 percent tax exemption and 100 percent foreign business ownership.

Egypt, which already has a strong local software industry, has set up a 1.2 million-square-meter Smart Village free zone for ICT companies near Cairo. IBM and Cisco have signed contracts to help educate the country's younger generation of information-technology specialists.

Jordan is also rushing to catch up, with King Abdullah himself busy charming potential partners, including Microsoft chief Bill Gates. Morocco and Cyprus are also pushing e-economy initiatives, and Israel is already a major player.

Khalil Abdul Massieh, Microsoft's country manager for Lebanon, said that his company supports any project to enhance technology in this country.

"BETZ can play a role in improving the services and conditions to attract companies and investors," he said.

Abdul Massieh predicted that Lebanon could deliver in terms of services and products. "Lebanon has the human capacity and business know-how to start the project in Damour," he said.

He said that Lebanon can also be regional center for software development and the Arabization of existing software programs. "But at the end of the day the environment in the country is one of the factors which will help achieve the goal," he warned.

Abdul Massieh also underlined the need to enforce copyright laws. Despite the government's efforts to stamp out piracy, the rate of intellectual property violations in Lebanon remains one of the highest in the world.

"The legal infrastructure for software development and protection of companies should be there, just as in the case of Dubai," Abdul Massieh said.

He added that Microsoft and other companies still view Lebanon as an important country. "Our presence in Lebanon is quite big in comparison to the size and population of the country," he said.

But whether Lebanon will finally grab the opportunity presented by BETZ remains to be seen.
 

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That mayor is absolutly retarded..This was to be built before Dubai Internet City(DIC)..I visited it last year on buisness and it was absolutly amazing..Every international name was there..little cofee houses..brick pavers gorgeous! That should have been and should be Lebanon...I think for western companies Lebanon wuold be the best location...closer to home..etc etc..Whats wrong with him..any city would dream to have this project built..
 

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That mayor is absolutly retarded..This was to be built before Dubai Internet City(DIC)..I visited it last year on buisness and it was absolutly amazing..Every international name was there..little cofee houses..brick pavers gorgeous! That should have been and should be Lebanon...I think for western companies Lebanon wuold be the best location...closer to home..etc etc..Whats wrong with him..any city would dream to have this project built..
Why wont the government over rule the mayor? I'm asking as i was not aware of this project, but from the sound of it, it's a great opportunity for lebanon and has many benefits to the area and lebanon in general.
 
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