Education and human resource development in the Kingdom was the focus of discussions on Tuesday at the Saudi-US Business Opportunities Forum in Atlanta, Georgia.
The Atlanta talks are significant, as an estimated 51 percent of the $385 billion budget for the Kingdom's 9th Development Plan will be spent on human resources development through 2013.
Minister of Education Prince Faisal bin Abdullah is heading an impressive 250-member delegation of government officials and business leaders to the forum that began its deliberations on Monday.
"Prince Faisal's participation in this forum reflects the national priority given to the Kingdom's educational goals," a senior Saudi official said.
The Saudi government allocated $40 billion to education, manpower, and human resources development in 2011, amounting to 25.9 percent of the total budget.
With a rapidly expanding population - and over 40 percent below the age of 20 — the Saudi government has prioritized the development of its human capital in an effort to increase employment opportunities for Saudi nationals and provide its population with the necessary skills to meet the demands of its expanding economy.
Saudi Arabia has developed world-class universities such as the King Abdullah University for Science and Technology, which boasts a $10 billion endowment and the Noura bint Abdulrahman University, which is the largest women-only university in the world.
Saudi Arabia's development drive in education and manpower training offers a lot of investment opportunities for American educational institutions and companies. At present more than 38,000 Saudis are studying in US institutions under the King Abdullah Foreign Scholarship Program.
Commerce and Industry Minister Abdullah Zainal Alireza, a member of the Saudi delegation, meanwhile, met with Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed and discussed prospects of expanding mutual investments. Atlanta plays a significant role in the US economy hosting headquarters of most of the 500 top American companies.
He thanked the mayor for hosting the forum that offers a good chance for companies and businessmen in Georgia to make use of new investment opportunities in the Kingdom's key sectors of education, energy, water and electricity, oil and gas, transport and logistics, petrochemicals and information technology.
In a related development, Deputy Education Minister Khaled bin Abdullah Al-Sabti held talks with Sanford R. Chandler, vice president for international initiatives at Technical College System of Georgia and other senior officials.
They discussed new investment projects to be unveiled during the forum as well as modern educational systems and Georgia's experiments in education and manpower training. They also explored prospects of expanding cooperation in education and training.
In a statement on the occasion, US Ambassador to the Kingdom James Smith underscored the US-Saudi Arabian Business Council's role in promoting bilateral trade relations. "The prospects of trade between US companies and Saudi Arabia are continually growing and that the Saudi-US Business Forum will further boost relations between the two business communities," he said.
Saudi Arabia, a member of G-20, is ranked 15th among the largest trading partners of the US since the value of bilateral trade amounted to $43 billion in 2010. "It also comes in the 12th place for US exports. In 2010, the US exported goods worth $11.6 billion to the Kingdom, showing a hike of nearly 8 percent compared to the previous year," he pointed out.
The three-day forum will also focus on investment opportunities in the Kingdom's infrastructure. Saudi Arabia has embarked on building four giant economic cities in Madinah, Rabigh, Hail and Jazan, which require the critical infrastructure, telecommunications, power generation, utilities and transportation to support them.
The Kingdom has launched unprecedented expansion programs that include the simultaneous construction of three major new rail lines, while upgrading all major airports and seaports. The water and power generation sectors in Saudi Arabia are some of the fastest growing industries in the Middle East.
Demand for electricity in the Kingdom is expect to reach 60,000 megawatts (MW) by 2020, up from the current production capacity of 50,000 MW. In an effort to meet the ever-increasing demand, the Saudi Electricity Company will invest over $80 billion in generation, transmission, and distribution project over the next 10 years.