Middle Earth

20 March 2008

Pictures courtesy of Nahkeel

Pictures courtesy of Nahkeel

He's called Sheik Mohammed for short and is said to be worth $27.8 billion. Forbes does not list him though, due to the fact that he is the ruler of a country. But if they did, he would be the fifth richest man in the world. And if there's one thing that could be said about the Sheik that couldn't, and absolutely wouldn't, be contested, it would be this: The man dreams big. So big, in fact, that he's replicated Earth.

Sheik Mohammed is currently the vice president and the Prime Minister of the United Arab Emirates, as well as the ruler of Dubai, the world's fastest growing city. Situated on the northeast coast of the United Arab Emirates, the emirate of Dubai shares borders with Abu Dhabi in the south, Sharjah in the northeast, and the Sultanate of Oman in the southeast. Essentially, Dubai is in the middle of the desert, a new age Vegas if you will.

Dabai's metropolis

Over the last 15 years, Dubai has become an amazing feat of modern architecture, accurately dubbed the “world's largest construction site.” Dubai boasts the tallest and only seven-star hotel, a mammoth indoor ski slope, a Manhattan-sized, palm tree-shaped peninsula visible from space, and a project that when finished will be the world's tallest structure. Dubai has ten-lane highways, more than 50 major projects, all with subprojects that seem inconceivable, 300 man-made islands in the shape of the Earth providing a respite for the world's elite, the world's tallest tower, tallest residential tower, largest airport and a dozen cities within a city, each with tax free treatment, infrastructure and special benefits for international corporations.

Dubai is estimated to employ 16% of all the tower cranes in the world, the largest per capita, and is Caterpillar's biggest customer. In fact, the crane industry thrives so much in Dubai that Manitowoc Crane Group has opened a new regional office there, to serve the whole of the Middle East region and North Africa. In addition, MCG has a workshop and storage facility in the duty-free zone in Jebel Ali Freeport in Dubai for the stocking of new and used machines, and for spare parts.

Contractors working on the Dubai Mall project, the largest mall in the world, are relying on a fleet of 29 Liebherr tower cranes for duties during the construction of this exclusive mall. The Liebherr tower cranes are being used for a variety of round-the-clock lifting duties, including striking and repositioning formwork, rebar and concrete.

The crane work isn't limited to Manitowoc and Liebherr though; Spain-based Comansa, among others, is eyeing the overseas market. The cranes in Dubai work nonstop and have jokingly been referred to as the city's state bird.

Dubai is another poignant example of how construction literally shapes the world we live in. One man's vision has become the livelihood for thousands of laborers, operators, and countless other construction industry professionals.

With Dubai being a hot market for cranes, companies from North America have begun doing business in that area, renting cranes to that market, as well as selling cranes from their fleets to other crane rental companies serving that market. A contractor from Greece, who purchased several cranes at Bauma, recently noted his firm owned some 700 cranes and rented an additional 500 from around the world. He said over half his fleet was working in Dubai on various projects.

Doing business in the Middle East may seem like a daunting proposition, what with the conflict in that region and related tensions. American insurance firms have begun doing “political risk analysis” to determine the viability of certain business sectors doing business in emerging markets and other sensitive markets around the world.

Companies from Dubai and the Middle East region are coming to the US seeking trained operators and crane service workers. American crane rental companies are being approached about helping these companies hire help and to secure service contracts. In the event of these types of business deals, North American companies need specialized assistance in dealing with risk management issues in terms of renting cranes that will work in Dubai or that region, as well as contracting with these companies on staffing assistance and service.

I once heard it said that almost any manufactured product can be traced back to a crane and when I look at Dubai, it seems irrefutably true.


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