Speakers at the first session of Saudi Economy Conference at King Abdulaziz University (KAU) called for providing incentives to national companies for increasing the percentage of their Saudi workforce . They also recommended support to small and medium establishments (SMEs) for enhancing their role in expanding the Saudi economic base. The two-day conference is themed "Saudi Economy Conference: Challenges and opportunities."
Muhammad bin Saleh Al-Ghufaili, assistant undersecretary for international financial affairs at the Ministry of Finance, said the Saudi economy  had maintained a balanced and strong growth during recent years, thanks to the integration between monetary and financial policies and the continuation of structural and organizational reforms at all economic sectors. Al-Ghufaili said the general economic state of the country was reassuring.
The data of 2011 showed it had achieved a growth of 8.6 percent, the highest growth rate for the country since 2003, he said, adding the non-petroleum sector achieved a 3.8 percent growth in the same year and the budget surplus amounted to a record SR 598 billion, the highest in Saudi Arabia's history.
At the same time, he said, foreign assets of the Saudi Arabian Monetary Agency (SAMA) reached $ 535 billion, which reflects the solid financial position of the agency.
"This has encouraged general policy makers to continue spending on improving the infrastructure of public facilities and stimulate economic growth at nonoil sectors. The rate of general spending has increased by 17 percent from 2003 to 2007 and by 31 percent from 2008 to 2011."
Although the spending in the country's 2012 budget covered all sectors, he said, it was concentrated on investment in the infrastructure for human resources development and education, health services and social development, which resulted in achievements shown in social development indicators.
Saleh bin Eid Al-Husaini, Shoura Council member, said the performance of the workforce  should be oriented toward improving the Saudi economy by diversifying income resources and expanding the economic base.
"The Kingdom started to work on diversifying income resources since the first five-year development plan in 1970, when the plan was based on three main points: Infrastructures, human resources development and formation of production sectors.
Between that time and 2010, volume of investments in the private non-oil sector increased from SR 2.1 billion to SR 341 billion, with the sector's contribution increasing from SR 5.11 billion to SR 483 billion during the same period. Also in the same period, nonoil exports increased from SR 28 million to SR 118 billion, while its percentage in all exports increased from 3.1 percent to about 7.12 percent," he said.
"By examining the oil sector's contribution in the total GDP, we see that we are reducing dependence on petroleum exports by 3.1 percent every year. Most of the country's spending is on human resources development, which is a sound policy for any country that seeks to reach advanced stages of development," he added.
The KAU's faculty of economics and administration has organized the conference in association with the Gulf Research Center, which is being attended by officials from the ministries of finance, education, and national economy and planning. Speakers from 10 countries including the US, Singapore, the UK, Italy, France, India, Germany, Egypt and Sudan are giving their presentations, said KAU President Osama Tayeb.