Ones to watch

ZES NKOK Gabon signed an agreement with Ecobank Gabon in April 2014, which provides finance to investors, for up to 80% for land acquisition and 60% for plant construction. Zona Franca Tayrona Santa Marta in Colombia made improvements in infrastructure to provide investors with secure and stable utility connections, including electricity, water and sewerage connections. FTZ No 186 in Maine, the US, reorganised its operating structure in 2014, introducing the Alternative Site Framework. This allows companies to be incorporated much more quickly, without physically having to move into the designated zone. Kedainiai SEZ in Lithuania is a relatively new zone, having only begun operations in April 2014. Boasting plentiful transport links and a brand new infrastructure, clients can import and export goods via port and rail links, and a project has begun to link factories directly with the railway line. Employee numbers in Togliatti Special Economic Zone, Russia, increased by some 33% between 2013 and 2014, coinciding with a 29% increase in SME tenants and 17% increase in large tenants in the same time period. Seven companies have plans to start production in the zone in 2015, supported by a new subsidy for training, which will be offered to investors in the coming year. Smederevo zone in Serbia has impressed judges with its commitment to infrastructure upgrades in 2014, which saw the completion of more than 4 kilometres of roads, a distribution gas pipeline and a distribution substation, water lines measuring 3 kilometres and the installation of an electrical substation. The construction of a customs terminal is also under way, helping streamline companies’ export and import times. Misurata Free Zone in Libya is in the process of developing a secondary site, Site B, which will measure 1500 hectares and contain a new port. The existing port will also be automated, helping to modernise the zone and attract new tenants.


Ladol Free Zone, Nigeria

Ladol Free Zone has been commended for self-sufficiency, following the construction of a $50m power plant, due to come online in late 2015. The plant will reduce tenants’ reliance on the national grid, and ensure a steady and uninterrupted provision of power.

Taiwan Sea Port Free Trade Zone, Taiwan

“Taiwan Sea Port FTZs, your anchorage in Asia and springboard to the world.” Commended for its marketing slogan, this message helped Taiwan Sea Port Free Trade Zone increase its SME and large tenant occupation rates by more than 8%, while its employee numbers increased by more than 40% between 2013 and 2014. The zone was also commended for infrastructure developments, as it undertakes a project to build an express highway connecting the free zone to the main national highway, bypassing the urban area. In addition, 194 hectares of free zone is to be added, including a new terminal and offshore logistics and warehousing facility.

Freeport of Ventspils, Latvia

The Freeport of Ventspils, on the banks of the Ventariver in western Latvia, was the winner of three bespoke awards. Commended for its global outreach, Ventspils Freeport recently completed three marketing campaigns in a range of countries, including Germany, Sweden, Russia and China. The zone is a frequent participator in the world’s largest worldwide exhibitions and conferences, and partakes in roadshows and trade missions. Its website is available in English, Russian and Chinese, as well as its native Latvian. In 2014, $27m was invested in upgrading facilities and infrastructure, resulting in the zone being commended for facilities upgrades and commended for infrastructure developments. Its biggest projects involved the building and reconstruction of access roads, a new bulk dry terminal and cargo berth, as well as the reconstruction of port infrastructure.


Inhdelva EPZ, Honduras

With 30 investing companies in the zone, employing more than 2000 people in 2014, Inhdelva Export Processing Zone in Honduras has been commended for it global outreach. Inhdelva EPZ claims to be the only free zone in Central America to have established an industrial park in another country, namely Uman Industrial Park in Mexico. The zone also aims to expand into Nicaragua, El Salvador and Costa Rica over the coming five years.

Klaipeda Free Economic Zone, Lithuania

With an honourable mention for the Europe region, Klaipeda Free Economic Zone in Lithuania saw its large tenants occupation rate increase by 50%  between 2013 and 2014, while the number of people employed in the zone increased by nearly 20%. The zone was also commended for local co-operation, following an agreement with a local university to establish a certification centre for glass and plastic products. A community centre is currently under construction, and will open in 2015 complete with catering, conference and leisure facilities.

Pomeranian SEZ, Poland

Pomeranian Special Economic Zone, located in the north of Poland, has been commended for its CSR policy. The zone offers a labour market re-entry programme for women, with special working conditions for pregnant women and young mothers. Scholarships are offered for young scientists, while support is also offered to local communities and a kindergarten facility is provided on site.

Zona Franca Tayrona, Colombia

Zona Franca Tayrona in northern Colombia has been commended for its CSR policy, as well as being listed as one to watch. While also committed to the environment and sustainable development, the zone embarks upon projects dedicated to improving the living conditions for disadvantaged people. Zona Franca Tayrona is also supporting a local neighbourhood, with incentives for children’s education.

Lodz SEZ, Poland

Home to more 32,000 employees and nearly 140 investing companies, Lodz Special Economic Zone has been commended for its China strategy and engagement. The past 12 months have seen the zone place an increasing importance on attracting investors from China, hosting five delegations from various Chinese regions. A Lodz-China cargo train connection has been heavily promoted by the Lodz SEZ, helping investors to export their products to this ever-important market. The special economic zone was also commended for skills/training, thanks to its 'HR-Zone meetings' which have been set up with human resource departments of investing companies, in order to establish trends in employment and challenges investors are facing in an effort to solve these problems. In 2014, two investment sites were fully equipped with utilities and facilities, ready to be invested in. The zone is also making preparations to deliver further office space to potential investors in 2018, leading to Lodz SEZ being commended for facilities upgrades.

Aqaba Industrial Estate, Jordan

Aqaba Industrial Estate, located in the south of Jordan, has been commended for its China strategy and engagement. The zone sits on part of the ancient sea route from east Asia to the Mediterranean, which the Chinese government is targeting in its ‘One Belt, One Road’ policy, designed to encourage Chinese equity along these ancient trade routes.

Lekki Free Zone, Nigeria

Receiving an honourable mention for the Africa region, Lekki Free Zone was also commended for its China strategy and engagement. The zone is the result of a Chinese-Nigerian joint venture, and 60% of all equity belongs to Chinese parties, with the remaining 40% belonging to the Lagos state government. Chinese investors are particularly forthcoming, with investments from Yulong Pipe, a steel pipe company, and China Glass, which established a production line in the zone.

Sohar Port and Freezone, Oman

Sohar Port and Freezone, which is approximately 200 kilometres from Oman’s capital of Muscat, has been commended for ease of access to the zone, following a wide range of developments to the infrastructure in the zone. Gates to the facilities were upgraded, adding automated entry controls and a new Gate Pass app, which allows companies and visitors to increase the speed of access. Roads and roundabouts were also upgraded, and highways designed to ease congestion are under construction, which will make the zone more accessible to the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia. These developments also helped the zone to win an award for infrastructure developments.

Ras Al Khaimah FTZ, UAE

Ras Al Khaimah Free Trade Zone’s star is rising, following an increase of nearly 55% in employee numbers between 2013 and 2014. The zone, with an honourable mention once again for the Middle East region, was home to more than 1300 companies in 2014, and was commended for encouraging excellence in this year’s bespoke awards. The annual RAK FTZ Business Excellence Award was created to recognise and acknowledge particularly enterprising companies within the zone, improving their profile and reputation. The zone also launched a competition targeted at start-up companies, with the winner receiving the cost of setting up in the zone and business support services.

Commended for start-up support

Start-up businesses are particularly attractive to free zones, typically bringing with them high growth and high profit potential. Judges were impressed by several zones in this year’s awards, which offered a nurturing and encouraging environment in which start-ups could thrive. Zona Franca de Vigo in Spain offers three Business Incubator Centres, each of which has its own sector specialisation and allows start-ups to test the market and the location, before committing to an investment. Tubitakmam Technology Free Zone in Turkey offers a similar programme for new companies, with an incubation centre that can accommodate up to 45 entrepreneurs at one time. The offices are fully furnished, with internet, phone and fax access free of charge for up to one year. Winner in the western Europe region, Shannon Free Zone has much to offer start-ups, particularly in the aerospace sector. An International Aviation Services Centre was established at the zone in 2014, which aims among other things to support a dynamic community of potential start-up aviation businesses, creating a hub of support and investment services. Also receiving an honourable mention for the Middle East region, TwoFour54 in the United Arab Emirates was of particular interest to the judging panel in its approach to start-ups. The zone offers new companies funding, mentorship and community support to help them get off the ground. Dubai Silicon Oasis, a zone in the UAE, offers its tech entrepreneurs innovative co-working space, as well as funding, mentoring and business tools. Ras Al Khaimah Free Trade Zone gives start-ups the chance to win the cost of setting up in the zone, and offers free business support to the winners. Jebel Ali Free Zone in the UAE was commended for the recent addition of an incubation centre for Japanese companies in the zone, to add to already existing centres for China, South Korea, Ukraine and Brazil. Zrenjanin Free Trade Zone in Serbia offers a wide range of support to new businesses, including training seminars, assistance with business plans, marketing and market research assistance, as well as obtaining necessary certification, all as part of its Business Incubator Zrenjanin programme.

Commended for facilities upgrades

Several free zones in this year’s batch of nominees attracted judges’ attention with a slew of upgrades to facilities available to potential and existing investors. Freeport of Ventspils in Latvia invested heavily in facility upgrades in 2014. A new dry bulk terminal was completed in February, the result of a $7.7m investment. Construction on an industrial centre commenced in Ventspils High Technology Park, with works due to be completed in 2015, the $7.7m investment will result in the addition of two large industrial buildings. Walbrzych Special Economic Zone in Poland added four production halls to the zone in 2014, including production floors set aside solely for SME tenants. New storage industrial halls were completed, with plans in place to construct another two industrial halls with areas of 5600 square metres and 10,000 square metres. In 2014, Lodz SEZ in Poland completed two new investment sites, fitted with all utilities connections and facilities, so investors could start to operate. The zone also started an ambitious office space development programme, which will see the addition of office space for companies in the BPO and IT sectors come online in 2018. Alabuga SEZ, which also received an honourable mention for the Europe region, made great strides in 2014 to upgrade its facilities. Two new parks were put into operation in the zone – ‘Synergy’ and ‘A Plus Park Alabuga’, as well as a ‘cottage complex’, which contains an International Baccalaureate school for children of employees in the zone, housing developments for managers and specialists and a sports complex. An initial phase of development is due to begin at Shannon Free Zone in Ireland in the coming year, with a new office block, an advanced manufacturing unit, a warehousing distribution centre and a new aircraft hangar all due to come online by 2017. These facilities will be valued at €26m once completed. DMCC Free Zone, global winner for 2015, impressed judges with the expansion of the Burj 2020 district, featuring the world’s tallest commercial tower – the Burj 2020 – at its heart. The mixed-use district will add some 1.3 million square metres to capacity at the zone. Ras Al Khaimah FTZ in the United Arab Emirates saw many developments to its zone in 2014. A district cooling plant was opened, which uses chilled water to control the air temperature in the zone. In total, 100 new warehouses were opened in the Technology Park, including reinforced flooring, suited to industrial buildings. A new business centre was opened, providing a range of services including company support and government services. The ‘Academic Zone’ is in the process of development, with the aim of becoming an international hub for learning and research. Dubai Silicon Oasis is due to bring its ‘Silicon Park’ smart city project online in the course of 2015, after the construction of the Middle East and north Africa region’s largest entrepreneurship centre. Salalah Free Zone in Oman is in the process of establishing a new administrative building, due to open in 2016, as part of a wider infrastructure and facilities development agreement to which the zone has committed. Jordan’s Aqaba International Industrial Estate is in the process of adding an additional 1 million square metres of space, which will be located next to the new port facilities the zone will complete in the coming year.

Commended for skills/training

This year’s global runner-up, Katowice Special Economic Zone, established a new ‘competence centre’, which operates as a training facility with a particular focus on hydraulics, pneumatics and sensorics. Its ‘K2’ project manages all aspects of human resources in the zone, one aspect of which is to match graduates with the right companies and jobs in the zone. Poland’s Starachowice Special Economic Zone was commended for the establishment of its Regional Cluster of Vocational Education, which partners with schools, businesses and support institutions to ensure that graduates have the skills that companies need to hire them. Lodz SEZ places a high importance on vocational education also, ensuring that companies’ hiring needs can be met with local talent. To this end, the zone works closely with human resources departments of companies in the zone to discuss their needs, and how these can be best met. Zona Franca Santander in Colombia went a step further, installing two universities at the zone. These universities include training departments, which work with businesses to train and prepare graduates for roles in these companies. Winner of the Africa region, Tanger Free Zone in Morocco, has established two training centres to ensure companies are provided with qualified staff. These centres are focused on automotive and offshoring industries. Themar Academy, which operates in TwoFour54 zone in the United Arab Emirates, is a specialist training academy which provides companies with skilled staff. In 2014 the facility was expanded by 140 square metres to include more training rooms.

Commended for reinvestment

  • Shannon Free Zone, Ireland – GE – 3159-square-metre expansion of existing facility
  • Rezekne Special Economic Zone, Latvia –LEAX – new 1000-square-metre production facility
  • Lodz SEZ, Poland – Fujitsu – investing €3.75m and expanding with 250 new staff
  • Alabuga SEZ, Russia – Ford – $100m investment in a new production line and engine plant
  • Free Zone Subotica, Serbia – Siemens – production area from 28,000 square metres to 42,000 square metres
  • FTZ No 74 Baltimore, US – Mazda – added 10% to expand capacity
  • Subic Bay Freeport Zone, Philippines – HHIC PHIL – added more than 2000 staff
  • Taiwan Sea Port Free Trade Zone, Taiwan – Kaochun – $8.3m investment in lease of 3.5 hectares
  • TwoFour54, United Arab Emirates – Ubisoft – expansion of 465 square metres
  • Jebel Ali Free Zone, United Arab Emirates – 511 companies expanded in 2014
  • Mauritius FreePort, Mauritius – Sun Packaging Systems – 1700-square-metre expansion
  • ZES NKOK Gabon – Sogamatec – expanded with two new operations: a Ferro recycling facility and an industrial oxygen bottling plant
  • ZIP Porvenir, Honduras – Myron – expansion of offices and addition of staff

Commended for infrastructure developments

The past year has seen many zones develop their infrastructure, helping to attract new companies and make doing business easier for those already present. In total, $57m was invested at the Freeport of Ventspils in Latvia in infrastructure development. Access roads were reconstructed, while a new cargo berth was established following the dismantling of the older Mooring No 1. The protective wall at the northern breakwater was also repaired.

Walbrzych Special Economic Zone in Poland saw a series of internal roads constructed in 2014, in the subzones NowaRuda and Sycow. Polish winners Katowice Special Economic Zone spent 2014 incorporating an additional 2.8 million square metres of space in the zone, all of which was equipped with roads, gas and water lines, sewerage systems and electricity.

Alabuga SEZ guaranteed its clients uninterrupted power supply in 2014, meaning that companies could invest safe in the knowledge that their production operations would continue without interruption.

Free Zone Pirot has extended its overall space to 400 hectares, while also adding a logistics centre in the free zone that allows companies to import and export goods by rail, thanks to the new intermodal terminal.

Zonafranca de Vigo invested more than €45m between 2014 and 2015 in upgrading infrastructure and facilities. The zone improved water and electricity networks, while energy efficiency was also upgraded and new access to the zone meant better logistics.

In 2014, Rezekne Special Economic Zone provided water, lighting, heating and electricity to 1.8 kilometres of streets in the zone. Further developments are also planned for the period between 2016 and 2019, with help from EU financing. Roads and utilities will be developed, while a high-pressure gas pipeline is planned for the Maskavas-Noliktavu streets, and is due to be completed in 2015.

Also gaining an honourable mention for the North America region, Keystone Opportunity Zone in the US has begun the first stages of its Navy Yard Energy Master Plan, which includes new buildings and new roads being developed around the Central Green Park. There are also plans in place to extend the subway line from south Philadelphia right to the zone.

Taiwan Sea Port Free Trade Zone is in the process of constructing a highway to connect the port and free zone to the urban area, reducing transportation costs and time for investors. Subic Bay Freeport Zone is in the process of investing approximately $54m to support a range of infrastructure improvement projects, including road upgrades and drainage facility improvements. Zona Franca Santiago made some improvements to energy efficiency and green power in 2014. Water recollection systems were introduced, while the option of solar panels were considered for buildings positioned favourably. A wastewater treatment plant was also constructed, and tree-lined boulevards were constructed for cycling routes. Mozambique’s Gazeda modernised Nacala Port and rehabilitated Nacala Dam, while also starting operations at Nacala International Airport in December 2014. A water supply project aims to increase the supply capacity for investors, and was financed by the World Bank. A new $50m power plant is set to open in Ladol Free Zone in late 2015, reducing the zone’s dependence on the national grid and ensuring uninterrupted power supply for investors. Mauritius FreePort is set to upgrade its logistics infrastructure, following the signing of a memorandum of understanding by two multinational companies to develop the infrastructure to support the expansion of the freeport zone. A specialised cargo airport was opened at Sohar Port and Freezone, while highways connecting the zone to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates are close to completion. There are also plans to connect the zone to the new Gulf Co-operation Council rail network. Early 2014 saw the opening of Jebel Ali Free Zone’s Gate 4 project, which put in place a 16-lane entry system, facilitating entry and exit at the zone. The project also included a flyover that enables traffic to move more seamlessly between container terminals and investors. Dubai Industrial City invested heavily in key infrastructure in 2014, upgrading electrical networks, telecommunications and storm water drainage networks in the zone. A 10-kilometre road was also constructed, linking the north and the south areas of the zone. Jordan’s Aqaba International Industrial Estate added two kilometres of streets in 2014, 70% of which are now serviced with necessary infrastructure, including power, water, telecommunications and sewerage drainage systems. In November 2014, ZES NKOK Gabon started to develop its own cargo handling port to alleviate congestion at Libreville port near the zone. A second phase of expansion is in the planning phase, 576 hectares of the zone are yet to be developed.

Commended for new investment

  • Astana – New City, Kazakhstan – Alstom and Talgo – development of a transport manufacturing cluster
  • Ras Al Khaimah FTZ, United Arab Emirates – Streit Group – construction of a new armoured glass factory totalling Dh30m ($8.17m)
  • Dubai Silicon Oasis, United Arab Emirates – many new noteworthy investments in 2014

ZES NKOK Gabon, Gabon

Located in the west of the Gabon, ZES NKOK Gabon was commended for its financing scheme by judges. In a partnership with Ecobank Gabon, investors can apply for finance, covering 80% of land acquisition costs and 60% for the facility construction. This financing is available at rates lower than those available in other banks. For companies not planning to acquire finance from banks, the zone offers a 12-month holiday period on site payments, while construction is going on. After this, amounts can be paid in six- or 12-month increments.

Specialism awards:

  • Aviation – Shannon Free Zone, Ireland

Shannon Free Zone has become a big player in the aviation sector. With direct links to Shannon Airport, and some buildings right beside the runway, the zone offers excellent air connectivity. An international aviation centre was established in 2014, helping to support start-up companies in the aviation sector, as well as providing training and R&D facilities – providing a place where researchers, academics and businesses can meet. Netherlands-based commercial aircraft engine leasing company AerCap; Germany-based Lufthansa Technik, which provides civil aviation maintenance and repair services; and US-based Servisair, which provides aviation and ground handling services, all call Shannon Free Zone home.

Shannon Free Zone 

Shannon Free Zone - Lufthansa Technik W200

"Shannon Free Zone has become a big player in the aviation sector and is home Germany-based Lufthansa Technik, which provides civil aviation maintenance and repair services"

  • R&D – Tubitakmam Technology Free Zone, Turkey

Tubitakmam Technology Free Zone in Turkey goes a long way to attracting R&D activities to its zone. Revenues from software development and R&D are exempt from taxes (both income and corporate), while salaries of any employees engaged in R&D are also tax-exempt. In its submission, Tubitakmam Technology Free Zone said that Marmara Research Centre, located in the zone, is Turkey’s primary research facility. The zone also houses the Informatic and Information Security Research Centre. General Electric and Turkish Aircraft have signed a partnership agreement to co-operate in the design of aircraft engines and have established an R&D facility at the zone, while Turkcell and Ibtech have also established R&D operations.

  • BPO/Outsourcing – Montego Bay Free Zone, Jamaica; Zona Franca Santander, Colombia; and ZIP Porvenir, Honduras

Montego Bay Free Zone described itself as “the nucleus of the business environment within [Jamaica’s] outsourcing sector”, and is home to such tenants as customer relationship management software company Gateway Solutions, outsourcing company Teleperformance and Jamaica’s own BPO company, Island Outsourcers. Colombia’s Zona Franca Santander has the dedicated Offshoring & Outsourcing Park within its zone, with plans for 10 office blocks in the 32-hectare park upon completion. Offshore operations are among the target sectors for ZIP Porvenir. One of the zone’s biggest clients, Myron Corporation, has begun plans to expand its call centre. When the call centre was established in 2008, it was the first such facility to have been installed in Honduras.

  • Media – TwoFour54, United Arab Emirates

TwoFour54 was home to more than 320 companies in 2014, over 90% of which were SME tenants. The zone’s aim is to establish itself as a premier media hub in the Middle East, and it is well on its way – with major media clients such as Bloomberg, CNN, BBC, National Geographic and HarperCollins, among many others. TwoFour54 has many initiatives in place to attract media companies, with a 30% cash rebate on film and TV production costs, world-class studios and on-site training offering media courses and tailored training solutions to its tenants.

  • Tourism – Baikal Harbour Tourist and Recreational Special Economic Zone, Russia

Baikal Harbour, located in the south of Russia, is aiming to profit from the growing Asian tourist market. The Republic of Burytia borders Mongolia and is not far from China, and the zone is receiving interest from Chinese companies. Favourable conditions are provided in the zone for tourist and recreational activity, with preferential tax rates, financial support for the provision of infrastructure and a ‘one stop shop’, providing streamlined support for administration.