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Economy / Jobs

Chart: Abu Dhabi ascends, Dubai rebounds

Abu Dhabi’s construction industry has had a good few years. Enormous projects like the $2.94bn expansion of the airport, the construction of the 60-storey Leaf Tower, or the plans to build the city its very own Louvre have meant thousands of extra jobs. The construction industry alone now accounts for over 30 per cent of employment in the Emirate.

Construction employment as share (%) of total employment. Data after 2012 is a forecast. Source: CityMetric Intelligence.

In Dubai, at the turn of the millennium, the proportion was even higher – a shade under half the working population were in construction. That jaw-droppingly high figure is a testament to quite how big a share of the city has been built since 1990.  

Since then, though, numbers have fallen. The economic crisis took its toll, but there’s also an argument that no city could continue to employ that many people in construction – you’d simply run out of things to build. 

Dubai property developers have rallied since 2011, and are now planning and constructing the world’s largest, well, everything. The 2020 Dubai Expo is also expected to create over 275,000 jobs across different sectors, which could take construction employment right back up to its pre-crash high: whether it can maintain those levels after the Expo, however, is another question.

The smaller northern emirates are also building, albeit on a much smaller scale. Ajman, the smallest emirate in terms of land mass, is by far the most densely populated, and packs in nearly three times as many people per square kilometre as Dubai. This is perhaps why, in 2007, over $21bn worth of development was planned for Ajman City.

Unfortunately, over the next year the financial crisis led to an increase in prices for raw materials (up by 20 per cent) and outsourced labour (up by 30 per cent). Big projects like the Al Zorah Resort in Ajman City were put on hold.

That’s why Ajman’s line on the top graph seems steady – big plans were quashed or delayed by the financial crisis. But, as the big two become more expensive, a building boom may still be on the cards. 
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