The following piece was written by guest blogger, Eliza Solender**
If DFW finds it’s short of construction cranes, my husband and I can tell you where to find them – they’ve gone to the Kingdom of Morocco. We just returned from The Dallas Assembly trip to Morocco with 75 other Dallas folks most of whom had never been there and knew very little about the country. What an impressive place!
The Dallas Assembly is a local civic group composed of community leaders that every year studies a different city somewhere in the world. The list is quite diverse including such cities as Boston, Paris, Havana, Seattle, Toronto, Cleveland, Madrid and this year the entire country of Morocco.
Morocco is located in North Africa, bordered by Algeria, the Atlantic Ocean and Mediterranean Sea just about eight miles from Spain. It is approximately the size of Texas, but shaped more like California. It is a country of many contrasts combining ancient and modern, Arab and Jewish, along with African, Berber and European influences.
Our trip included meetings with government, business and education leaders arranged by Jim Falk, President & CEO of the World Affairs Council Dallas/Fort Worth and Honorary Consul to Texas for Morocco. Of course, we did plenty of sightseeing and shopping. All of which helped us form many impressions. For those of us in commercial real estate, we couldn’t help noticing that construction is booming in all the major cities we visited (Rabat, Casablanca, Marrakech Essaouira, Ifrane and Fez) as well as in much of the countryside. We saw massive new apartment, resort, retail and office projects under construction. How is this happening when it appears that so much of the Middle East and Africa is unstable? It is all about the country’s unique form of government and its King.
Morocco’s popular King Mohammend VI ascended to the throne in 1999 after his father’s death. Since then he has rapidly led many substantial reforms, most notably, in 2004, a new family code that gave women gender equality and, in 2011, a new constitution that gave a significant amount of his power to a prime minister elected by the Moroccan people. In addition, in 2004 Morocco signed free trade agreements with the EU, the United States and became a non-NATO ally.
The country has approximately 35 million people and is experiencing significant growth due to its stability, diversity and religious tolerance. The King is called the “Commander of the Faithful,” demonstrating its openness to different faiths. It has traditionally been an agricultural country, but with its shipping, growing tourism business (last year 10 million people visited) and companies like Renault opening an auto factory and IBM a major office., it is becoming an economic powerhouse and a staging ground for companies looking to expand to West Africa.
However, job growth will continue to be critical to provide employment for its youth.
So what observations did we take away from this progressive Islamic country?
It was not unusual to see women walking together on the street in traditional as well as Western styled clothing.
…Women drive cars and hold key leadership positions in the government, education and business.
…The people speak a variety of languages including Arabic, French and various Berber dialects. English is considered the language of business and there is a major emphasis on teaching it.
…Education is very important. We saw new schools everywhere. Overall illiteracy is around 50%. There is a major effort underway to educate more girls who have an illiteracy rate of almost 75%.
…Transportation around the country is by bus, car, train, motorcycle and donkey. It is not unusual to see along the highway the equivalent of a country “park-and-ride” where donkeys are literally parked along the highway while their owners are shopping in the nearest town or village.
…We also saw small groups of stones piled one on top of the other along the highway serving as markers indicating property lines. Their form of survey stakes!
…Like much of the United States, Morocco is experiencing a shortage of water. However, their water table has dropped in many areas due to construction of golf courses that cater to foreign tourists. One of the big tradeoffs for attracting tourists.
…Lastly, there is a huge renewable energy initiative focusing on solar and wind. Morocco is now building one of the world’s largest solar projects with an estimated cost of $9 billion.
Right now there are no direct flights between Dallas and Morocco. Keep your fingers crossed. Talks are underway to start direct flights which would be very positive for DFW giving us even greater access to North and West Africa and other Mediterranean countries. With Morocco’s goal of achieving 20 million tourists by 2020, we could be a major stepping stone to the area.
Bottom line, do we recommend traveling to Morocco? Absolutely!
**Eliza Solender is President of Solender/Hall, Inc., a commercial real estate brokerage company in Dallas, TX that specializes in representing nonprofit organizations, is a member of CREW-Dallas and serves on the board of directors of Community Trust Bank.