Saudi Arabia unveiled plans in 2005 to construct a supercity to establish a thriving metropolis that could take on some of the world's biggest industrial, manufacturing, and tech centres in the world.
More than a decade later, Fahd Al-Rasheed, group CEO and managing director of King Abdullah Economic City, talked to Business Insider this week at theWorld Economic Forum about the $95 billion (£67 billion) supercity, which the Saudis hope will draw from both Chinese manufacturing and Western tech innovation.
He has 50 meetings over the next four days with some of the world's largest companies to secure more foreign direct investment.
"With KAEC, we are trying to create a new initiative to diversify our economy away from just oil," Al-Rasheed said. "It's entirely funded by the private sector and through foreign direct investment. It's completely private.
"The city has several major components that make it a metropolis — such as a major port, an industrial zone, and a big residential area and all the amenities. The port for example has the capacity for 3 million containers."
The KAEC was initially announced by King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz Al Saud in 2005. The project is not expected to be completed until 2035. Plans call for the city to eventually have 2 million residents across 70 square miles — the equivalent of Washington, D.C.
Al-Rasheed said that while he didn't have exact numbers for how many people were employed to construct the city, there are "easily 10,000."
So far, the city has about 3,000 to 5,000 residents, which is small relative to its capacity. Al-Rasheed, however, said that after some initial teething problems,the city was growing rapidly and expected to host dozens of the world's largest companies, including the automaker Volvo and the pharmaceuticals Pfizer and Sanofi.
"Initially for five years, we had delays building the city because the credit crisis didn't help," Al-Rasheed said. "However we have grown around 30% every year for the past five years and really now we are ahead of schedule.
"We have a population of around 5,000 people, but that is set to hit 50,000 by 2020 — so the city has progressed quite nicely. The idea is to make KAEC into a global logistic and manufacturing hub and region. We want to compete with China for manufacturing and India for logistics.
"What we want to try and do is to get as many companies in to create jobs that will be filled by the best talent irrespective of nationality. Those jobs will convert into residents, but they are also able to be resident and not work as well, for example renting."
Al-Rasheed said that while all types of manufacturing, professional services, pharmaceuticals, and tech companies were on KAEC's wish list, logistics companies were very attractive for the city.
But particularly interesting was what Al-Rasheed said next.
"We're looking at making KAEC a major tourist destination," he said. "Yes — can you imagine that? A tourist destination in Saudi Arabia."
But he's not talking about the supercity being the next Dubai, the city in the United Arab Emirates where many Westerners visit for sun, pool time, and cocktails in hotel bars.
"We have 10 million Saudis that go abroad to enjoy world destinations, and the idea we have is to make KAEC a destination for religious tourists," he said, referring to the country's conservative Islam backdrop. "We want to leverage the market we already have."