With a superior location in West Cairo, Smart Village is the largest-gated business community in Egypt that accommodates multinational and local companies, governmental and financial authorities and organizations, as well as educational and research institutions. In this interview, Ahmad Touni discusses Smart Village’s successful partnership with the Ministry of CIT and explains the facilities and services it offers to its tenants.
I’d like to ask you about the Egyptian economy overall. By the end of the year 2016 the government started taking bold steps towards reforming the economy with the ultimate goal of achieving macroeconomic stability and real inclusive growth for an entire population. Two years after the first implementation of reforms, what has been the impact of the economic reforms in the economy?
Egypt achieved 5.3% GDP growth for the year 2017/2018 and is targeting a growth of 5.8% for the year 2018/2019. Egypt’s parliament approved the New Investment Law in May 2017, providing tax incentives and guarantees, liberalizing the foreign exchange system, while adopting comprehensive VAT systems. These points will be a catalyst bringing more domestic and foreign investment to the country.
I’d like to give you a quick brief about Smart Village. Smart Village Company was established back in 2001 as a PPP company between the Ministry of MCIT and private investors. The idea is how to attract IT companies to start working in Egypt in safe and successful areas where they can practice their business. Through the years, Smart Village has become the state of the art business hub around Egypt. The office inventory in Egypt is approximately 1,100,000 m2, within Smart Village, we have 700,000 m2 of office space. So, we are dominating over 65% of all the office space. We are a key player in the market, and we affect the market being a role model for building and operating business parks. People are looking to our community, our modern infrastructure, and how we operate the facility. We have around 55,000 employees working on a daily basis. We reached 170 companies, local and international, working in Smart Village in addition to 10 governmental organizations. We have 700,000 square meters of office space with an excellent and healthy occupancy of 90%.
So that’s an impressive number, 170 companies. What do you think in your opinion has been the added value that you have brought to these companies?
The added value is that it’s the first place in Egypt that has the proper infrastructure where people can work safely in an environment with modern office spaces provided. Most of the facilities and amenities needed, beside the business, are available. We have within our premises a smart club,it includes state of the art gym, soccer, basketball, tennis, etc. This is an added value to our tenants where they can be entertained on their lunch break or weekends. Our pavilion building serves as our sales center. The pavilion has multifunctional rooms used for seminars or other functions. We’re also adding other projects that will add value.
I wanted to also ask you about the different projects that you have, including the hotel and Smart Village east?
In the pipeline, we’re adding another 100,000-meter squares of office space. Seventy percent of these areas are under construction now, and 30% are in the process of design. One of the main focus of the Smart Village’s board of directors is to build a 5-star hotel with 240 rooms. It’s essential to have this hotel as we have lots of expats coming to Smart Village on a daily basis, and it’s much more convenient to have a proper place where they can stay and be able to dine and so forth.
Where is this hotel going to be?
The hotel will be overlooking the lake and adjacent to the Conference Center Building. Smart Village east is our new project extending our presence East of Cairo. Affiliating with the well-known UAE developer Capital Group Properties, we’re providing the know-how for building and operating the office park. We provide our experience in the office park development. The project now is in the tendering stage. We’re entering into a long term commitment with Capital Group Properties in their pioneer project (Al Burouj), through the operation for the next 20 years. The Smart Village is not only a development company; but also an operation company where we built and operate our facilities. We do proper operation for the site and the building. We have our janitorial services, technicians working throughout the day, our maintenance team, our catering services, transportation services to all our tenants and buyers within our community. Multinational and local firms can find a proper place that’s well maintained, well taken care of with all the facilities and amenities needed.
You were saying that the role in the beginning was to attract IT companies. What do you feel is the role of Smart Village in ICT eco-system?
Providing a safe, modern, well operated office square within a sustainable community, in addition to all services needed for business to run a smooth operation is the main propeller to attract IT companies.
So, Smart Villages is a clear example of a successful public private-partnership. You’re a clear example of synergy, of working together with the state. What has been behind your success?
The company was established 17 years back. Throughout the years, we’ve been the role model for PPP. It’s one of the earliest projects as PPP in the country in Egypt. We’ve been considered as a role model for those kinds of projects. It’s kind of collaboration between the public and private sector. With the support we’ve been given by the Egyptian Ministry of Communications and Information Technology, it’s been a successful story “the synergy is there”.
Most of the international companies coming to Egypt, like Microsoft, Oracle are using the highest standards. Can you tell us a bit about how you keep up to date in developing your ICT infrastructure to make sure that the companies have the ability to keep innovating, developing and servicing?
We are always in communication with MCIT on the latest technologies needed. We work closely with the proper consultants giving us the best advice on the best practices to improve our facilities and operations. In addition, we are good listeners to our tenants and their needs.
You mentioned infrastructure safety and the ability to do the job. The truth is when you come to Smart Villages, you feel you are in an Oasis, in comparison to the busy streets in Cairo or downtown. In terms of the end user and employees, what is the community that you try to create for them? What is it that you want them to feel in Smart Villages?
An integrated community with proper mobility is our aim and target, to be provided to every and each individual working within Smart Village. This is achieved through adding new services and facilities. We are providing transportation and parking facilities, also we are providing catering, housekeeping and maintenance services. In addition to new buildings to add more to our tenants, including a new F&B Hub in addition to the hotel.
Have you seen any case of synergies between companies?
All the businesses under one roof: “the roof of Smart Village”. Commuting between different areas of Smart Village is so simple. We are treating all of the building owners as business partners. We are planning in the new future to move into a green and sustainable facility through using electric vehicles as our internal transportation; moreover we are working on the waste management; and automated controls for the irrigation system, etc.
When you spoke of the 1.250 million square meter space of offices, what kind of population are you expecting to have here?
Almost 90,000, but this is in the long term, because we don’t add more buildings except when there’s a need from the market. We’re now feeling this need from the market. As I mentioned the occupancy is 90%, which is a very healthy environment. Other investors in Smart Village are adding 100,000 office space in the coming 2 years. When we feel other spaces are needed, we will add more of course. At the end, ultimately, we have to reach the 1.2 million.
So just to understand the way you operate, you keep the plot of lands within Smart Village to the company that wants to rent, and then they build their facility on top, or do you develop it for them?
Sometimes, we were selling some lands to banks, developers, or companies to make their building or facilities according to their requirements. Some other times, we have these buildings already built and keep it as our assets. Other times, we build a building and sell it as a developer. We have to types of businesses, selling lands, selling buildings, or leasing buildings.