Lebanon already has about 130 private industrial zones, but they don’t offer proper infrastructure support. Many are located in the middle of cities and their prices are prohibitive for young entrepreneurs.
“Today, we have a situation in Lebanon where there have been a lot of privately developed industrial zones over the last 50 years built next to cities,” says Elisabetta Cucchi, a loan officer at the EIB. “Now the cities have expanded and the industrial areas end up surrounded by residential areas. This doesn’t work.”
Some of the zones will be located in areas with high populations of refugees, providing more jobs, but also alleviating the infrastructure and social strains created by the Syrian crisis. The Syrian war has hampered economic growth and investment in Lebanon. There are as many as 1.5 million Syrian refugees in Lebanon, which has a population of about 4.4 million.
The new zones will create more opportunities for young people and women across Lebanon, and the new industries could help in the reconstruction of Syria, says Pasini, the UN representative.
Gemayel, of the Lebanese industrial group, hopes the new zones will attract a few big-value businesses and more foreign investment. Many Lebanese want better jobs and higher earnings, he says, but they often lack opportunities unless they move to another country.
“We would like to see the cake getting bigger for everybody,” Gemayel says, referring to the potential for more local jobs and the possibility for outside investors to do more business in Lebanon.
He wants a foreign “anchor company,” such as a carmaker, to move to Lebanon. He says Renault’s car plants in Morocco, for example, are helping many local companies thrive.
“Lebanon is a land of potential,” Gemayel says. “The people here are focused on high quality and innovation, and they keep working and creating businesses despite all the odds. And the odds have been stacked against us for many years.”