Saudi prince’s $500bn ‘Neom’ megaproject woos Wall Street

Foreign academics and experts have questioned Neom’s feasibility after previous efforts to build economic and financial free zones struggled to take off. 
Image: Bloomberg, Glen Carey/Bloomberg

Executives from the Saudi crown prince’s “Neom” megaproject have invited bankers and investors to a meeting in New York next month as they try to drum up international interest in their $500 billion plan to build a high-tech hub from scratch.

Neom’s chief executive Nadhmi Al-Nasr and finance sector head Layth Al-Shaiban are scheduled to attend the event in early April, according to people familiar with the matter. Invitations were sent to private equity firms, bankers and construction suppliers for the gathering, which aims to gauge interest in the project, one of the people said. It’s potentially one of a series of events in multiple American cities, and follows a similar event in London last year, another person said.

Neom didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

Announced in 2017, Neom is the crown jewel of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s program to overhaul the economy of the world’s largest oil exporter. His plans to turn the remote region on the kingdom’s northwest Red Sea coast into a high tech hub filled with robots encapsulates the major elements of his so-called “Vision 2030” to diversify away from crude, loosen social restrictions and boost investment.

“Explore and discuss the significant market opportunities Neom represents and discuss how we can support your business plans through meaningful partnership and investment opportunities,” the invitation reads, according to a copy seen by Bloomberg.

The invitation says executives will share details on Neom’s “unique vision of urban design,” which includes plans for a car-free linear city, an industrial development that floats on the Red Sea and a mountain ski resort with an artificial lake — all powered by renewable energy — though progress so far is mostly limited to earthworks.

The effort to woo Wall Street comes more than three years after the murder of government critic Jamal Khashoggi by Saudi agents in Istanbul damaged the kingdom’s reputation abroad. Several prominent figures left Neom’s advisory board after the killing. A crackdown on dissent in Saudi Arabia also unsettled global firms and drew international criticism.

Many bankers and other international companies have returned to work in Saudi Arabia since then, though. Neom has hired more than a thousand employees to move to the remote site and plan the new region’s economy and urban design — including former executives from Buro Happold, General Electric and Germany’s RWE.

The project has stirred some controversy among Saudis. A relocation process for local residents devolved into violence and arrests in 2020. Foreign academics and experts have questioned Neom’s feasibility after previous efforts to build economic and financial free zones struggled to take off.

© 2022 Bloomberg

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