NECESSITY HAS BEEN the mother of invention in Hong Kong, where the limited supply of land has resulted in extensive reclamation projects and the construction of soaring skyscrapers. This expertise is now being put to good use in the Middle East, a region undertaking some of the world's biggest and most prestigious engineering projects. Hong Kong's reputation has already helped it win a significant share of contracts in booming Dubai. Some are linked to the new Palm Islands, regarded as an unparalleled feat of engineering and design, and dubbed the 'eighth wonder of the world'. Contracts have also been won elsewhere in the United Arab Emirates, most notably Abu Dhabi, which engineering groups view as 'the next big thing'. Maunsell AECOM, which is part of the giant AECOM Group, has gained a formidable reputation in Hong Kong. The company has been involved in building everything from Chek Lap Kok airport to the MTR, KCR, roads, tunnels and new towns such as Tseung Kwan O. It has worked on some of the newest buildings in Central and the redevelopments of the old Kai Tak airport site and Ocean Park. 'We are now leveraging our Hong Kong expertise in the Middle East,' said chief executive Tony CK Shum. 'High-rises are one of our strengths and more are now being built in the Middle East than anywhere else in the world.' Maunsell has already worked on the 70-storey Park Plaza in Dubai and a 400-metre office and apartment block in Abu Dhabi. Mr Shum said there were still many opportunities. Incredibly, a third of the world's giant power cranes, which are crucial for such projects, are currently in Dubai. Experience gained in Hong Kong from work on reclamation and engineering projects in marine environments has also helped AECOM to win a major contract for the so-called 'Great Arabian Water City'. Built around a series of marinas and canals in Abu Dhabi, this development is due for completion in about four years. It will accommodate 200,000 people and involves the construction of 50 bridges. 'Our involvement is largely due to our work at Chek Lap Kok and the Kwai Chung container terminals,' Mr Shum said. Maunsell has a workforce of 1,800 in Hong Kong and 600 in the Middle East. The group as a whole has nearly 4,000 staff stationed in the region. It has more than 50 major projects on its books including highways, bridges, sewage and water plants and even a new cricket stadium. As several new rail and port projects began, additional staff would be needed, Mr Shum said. 'We are targeting big expansion over the next five years and the group's strategy is to focus on the Middle East and China,' he said. David Lee, the company's managing director for building and engineering, added: 'We see Abu Dhabi as the next boom town, and that is why we have a strong presence there.' Greg Wong, president of the Hong Kong Institution of Engineers, said global engineering giants obviously had the financial clout and resources to bid for the mega-contracts, but smaller companies might find it hard to compete. 'To establish a presence you need deep pockets,' he said. 'You have to set up offices and hire staff. If you can afford it this is not difficult to do in Dubai, which is a very open society and economy.' But the biggest opportunities of all were coming up in Saudia Arabia, including the new King Abdulla City near the Red Sea, he said. 'It is impossible to send women engineers [to the Middle East], for one thing, because they would have to wear a veil and are not even allowed to drive cars,' he said. 'Neither can you set up wholly owned consultancy firms in Saudia Arabia as you can in the United Arab Emirates. 'You need even deeper pockets to compete in Saudi Arabia.'