Nicholas Maclean, Middle East managing director of commercial property giant CBRE and a prominent member of the GlobalScot network of Scottish business mentors, was addressing a Middle East Masterclass held by Scottish Enterprise (SE) in Glasgow last week.
Maclean, sitting on a panel that also included representatives of Scottish firms that are thriving in the region, such as the Edinburgh-based technology consultancy UserVision, plus representatives of legal firms expert in transacting business in the Middle East, told the audience of experienced exporters and SE account-managed businesses that the IT and food and drink sectors offered particularly "great opportunities" for Scottish SMEs,.Presentations also included information about the British Business Group in Dubai, which offers an "incubation service" to newcomer businesses.
Recently voted one of the 50 most influential Brits in the UAE by Arabian Business magazine, Maclean said: "Sentiment in the region has improved, and is leading the actual recovery, but people are more prepared to take risks. Another positive is that a lot of the activity that would have come to the [politically troubled] Syria and Egypt is coming to Dubai."
Maclean said he had given a "warts-and-all picture of doing business in the Middle East", including notorious barriers to growth in the region "such as the difficulty of getting paid".
"There is a job to be done in promoting the opportunities for Scottish companies," he said. "The cold statistics point to more spending on infrastructure, as well as healthcare, where there is a big opportunity for Scots companies. Whereas multinationals tend to win the big spend [on capital projects], healthcare contracts tend to go to SMEs, which most of our companies are."
Scottish Development International is supporting Scottish companies to attend a series of high-profile trade exhibitions and events in the region in 2014, including Arab Health, Gulfood, GITEX (IT), and ADIPEC (oil and gas).
SDI opened its office in the British Embassy in Dubai in May 2010. According to the Scottish Government's White Paper on independence, the emirate, which has the largest concentration of expatriate business in the region, is likely to be among the sites "being considered" as the location of a Scottish Embassy in the event of a Yes vote in September's referendum.
Data from the 2011 Scottish Global Connections Survey puts Scottish exports to the Middle East that year at just over £1 billion, according to Scottish Enterprise.