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Technology park takes Qatar closer to knowledge economy

The vision of a "post-carbon economy" is one step closer to fruition following the inauguration of the emirate's Science and Technology Park.

DOHA // Qatar's vision of creating a "post-carbon economy" is one step closer to fruition following the inauguration of the emirate's Science and Technology Park. Part of Qatar Foundation, a 1,000-hectare campus of schools, universities and national facilities, the park aims to become an international hub for technology-based research, innovation and entrepreneurship, offering tax-free, duty-free benefits to its multinational members.

Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al Thani, the emir, Sheikha Mozah Bint Nasser al Missned and hundreds of distinguished guests were on hand yesterday for the ceremony at Doha's Education City. With the region losing many bright youngsters to institutions in the West, he explained, Qatar was committed to creating a knowledge-based society by developing globally competitive, high quality education and research.

As with many countries in the region, Qatar has poured significant resources into the development of education, health care and sports in an effort to diversify its economy away from one that is solely based on oil and gas profits. Investments worth an estimated $133 billion (Dh488bn) are planned across the country through 2012. The world's largest exporter of liquefied natural gas, Qatar's gas sector expanded 62.9 per cent last year to 31.97 billion riyals (Dh32bn).

"Certainly there will always be large quantities of gas, but not as much as there is now, so the government is committed to planning for that," said Robert Baxter, communications director for the Qatar Foundation. The Qatar Foundation and corporate partners have invested more than $800 million in the park and 21 companies, including the European Aeronautic Defence and Space Company, ExxonMobil, General Electric, Microsoft, Shell and Total, have already committed $225m through 2013. Officials expect up to 50 companies will be members by 2012.

They cannot buy land or buildings, but rather must lease building space for up to 15 years. These companies will conduct their own commercial-oriented research and development and then work with Education City's academic researchers as part of a process to ease the path from the laboratory to the marketplace. Members of the park must be technology developers, whether via applied research, development and testing of a product or service, or technology training.

Construction on the 45,000 sq m science park will cost an estimated $600m. With the initial funding coming entirely from domestic sources, officials said the project was entirely shielded from the global economic crisis, which has crippled many large-scale projects. The complex is partially functional now and is scheduled for completion in 2012. "All that you see in Education City is considered essential national infrastructure and they will do what it takes to get it done," Mr Baxter said. "What we are talking about is a cultural transformation in a way."

The park will initiate its own projects for research, training and demonstration of platform technologies, such as robotic surgery, solar energy and proteomics, the large-scale study of proteins. The new complex is located within walking distance of the six US college campuses based in Qatar, each of which has committed to collaborating in some form with members of the science park in an effort to diversify the educational exposure of the students.

"The notion of US-style intellectual property, write a business plan, hire a CEO, then go out and raise venture capital, that's new to this part of the world," explained Charles Thorpe, dean of Carnegie Mellon Qatar. "That's where we come in - training people to do that and as a result become successful entrepreneurs at home." vsalama@thenational.ae

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