Imagine an environment that’s a beacon for business and a home for the staff that help make it happen. Team Y heads to Sandan – an industrial park that aims to reboot the world of retail while delivering a better deal for diligent employees.
Think about it: you drive to a large mall to scout out options for a new car or buy equipment for your home; all services that are available under one roof, and afterwards you indulge in a spot of fine dining taking in the greenery around you.
This forms the basis of an industrial township – a term alien to those in Oman.
At its core, it takes the basics and blends two of Oman’s leading sectors – the automotive industry and the construction industry with world-class planning and strategy – and merges the two to form the Middle East’s largest drive-through open-top shopping mall.
Sound too good to be true?
Well, bear in mind that business masterminds at the Sandan Development LLC (which came to life quietly in January 26, 2016) aren’t letting your qualms inhibit their journey of setting this architectural marvel in motion.
In fact, the project, ‘Sandan Industrial Park’, which will soon become the heart of the city of Halban (30km from Seeb), will be opening its doors to the public by the first quarter of 2019.
In all its glory, the property will cover 250,000 square metres – and more importantly, can accommodate more than 2,400 outlets – which will include workshops and showrooms, 400 offices, and more than 1,250 residential units.
It will consist of a dedicated section for cars – ‘Auto World’, which will include automotive showrooms, service centres, luxury detailing shops, spare part shops, etc. There will also be a section for construction – ‘Construction World’, which will include offices for architects, draftsmen and designers; all of whom will help you draft your dream house. Also on the agenda is Boulevard, a service area for consumer goods and finally, a residential area to house the staff.
But, numbers aside, there’s a lot more to this project than meets the eye. And the greatest feats that the company strives to achieve are in the sectors of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR).
In an exclusive interview with Y, the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of the company, Michael Chee, who is from Malaysia, sheds light on this topic.
He says: “The people of Oman are also the lifeline of this beautiful country. The obvious proximity to the ports and its central stature in the GCC aside, the country’s manpower is one of the reasons it continues to develop into a greater nation.
And, as we here at Y have seen before, the manpower that contributes to the working-class sector in the automotive and construction sectors are considered labourers or blue-collar workers – and are often crammed into small spaces in huge numbers. During a Y investigation in 2016, we came across labour camps which housed nearly 12 people in a 60sq.m portable cabin – a violation of Omani housing law.
In reality, only three labourers are allowed to be housed in such a confined space in Oman – and Sandan will be adhering to the rules set by the government.
“Sandan is a living city – and not an industrial zone alone. So, as per our concept, we can house people in small apartments over their work place. This will also be in accordance with the Oman government’s law stating how many people can reside in an apartment.
“Moreover, they don’t need to travel. So, they do not need to take buses and travel long distances to get to work.
“They’ll live right on top of their office, and this will not only make the business more efficient but also at the same time also improve the living standards of the workers.”
The apartment as a standalone residential unit will come packing their own bathroom, kitchen, washing area, and the sleeping area.
“The stay area is also higher than the norm. What we see in many other places is crazy, and frankly, inhuman.
“We want to create a place where everybody has their own freedom. They’ll have restaurants and supermarkets, and everything needed to for them to live rather than staying in those labour camps.
“This is the creation of a lifestyle, and we’re hoping to make a difference,” Michael adds.
Speaking of which, the mini-city, despite being a hub for automotive and construction setups, will also aim to reduce its carbon footprint as much as it possibly can. It will take the challenge on to Mabelah and Wadi Kabir, which are currently the grease-laden hubs for the automotive and construction companies.
As a part of the plan, which we witnessed first-hand, the roads, pavements, and all the surroundings will be covered in flora. And that’s not all: Sandan will also be the first industrial city of its kind to adopt LED lighting throughout, LED billboards and full-scale recycling. The firm will also work in conjunction with wastewater management company, Haya.
Michael says: “Our intention is to create a living organism that will make us self-sufficient to an extent. And as a part of that, we’ll be incorporating wastewater recycling, which will allow us to reuse the water as grey water for irrigation and such purposes.
“Also, people needn’t require their cars to drive inside the roads; they can opt for the shuttle buses that we’re putting in place. So, they can save on their fuel and in turn also reduce the carbon emissions.
“It’s a small step – but as they say: ‘It’s better late than never’.”
But is it Michael who is bringing fresh ideas to the table here in Oman? He promptly answers: “No, it’s not.
“The Sandan Industrial Park is the first 100 per cent Omani investment with local sponsors and directors. And all the plans that we have are shared among each other – and such CSR activities are now being given the go-ahead.”
Be that as it may, Sandan is also striving to be completely Omani, with them outdoing the ministry targets and going one step further to train the youth of the nation.
“As we speak now, we have brought in 10 fresh graduates and are training them for work in logistics, business and commerce,” the CEO tells us with pride.
“We are bringing them in to learn about the city. They’ll now be given training for three months – and they’ll know whether what they’ve learnt can be applied in their daily work. Of course, they’re being paid for their work, too.
“The only expat here is me,” he laughs.
“Our intention is to make this city an icon of Oman. It has the potential to become something that Omanis can be proud of. Currently, you see these SMEs everywhere and they’re not ordered.
“But you now have a place where everything is organised, rightfully managed, and coordinated. Everything is in place and all these businesses need to do is come over and begin their services.”
Sandan Industrial Park may only be completing its phase one early next year – but several companies have already begun shifting their services to the location. For instance, we came across a Japanese motorcycle brand that had already begun showing off their rides to the public.
Several construction and automotive-based clients have also shifted shops to begin their operations post the official opening of the city.
On a final note, Michael says: “Oman is a magnificent country with a lot of potential. It is blessed with a strategic location, too – and now it’s up to the people to begin making use of the vast possibilities.
“Sandan Industrial Park aims to be a hub for services but also will focus on manufacturing – and it’ll help develop the export industry of Oman.
“What we’ve learned over the past few years, especially after the oil crisis, is that there has been a shift in focus from oil to other sectors. And it’s uncanny, because human beings have been dependent on oil since the early 20th century after the creation of Daimler-Benz.
“We began relying on oil then, and now it’s the 21st century. So, as you see, we’ve been using it for three centuries. But oil itself has so many byproducts; so many businesses and people are relying on this product.
“But it’s perhaps time to shift this mindset. And Sandan Industrial Park strives to be a hub in the GCC for its services and manufacturing – and that, I strongly believe, will set the tone for Oman’s future.”
“We’re here to help spark a change in the country.”