JEDDAH—King Abdullah Economic City (KAEC), a Saudi megaproject that has been under construction for almost a decade, is seeking global PR agency support to help improve its profile and prospects. 

Backed by regional property giant Emaar, the $86bn project has faced numerous challenges as it attempts to eventually become a global city that can revitalize the country's economic development. 

The ambitious project, which aims to be as large as Washington DC, was announced by Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah in 2005, among claims that it could potentially contribute as much as $100bn to the Kingdom's GDP.

So far, KAEC includes a major port along with several other zones. It is understood that PR support is being sought across a range of different organizations, and is likely to involve considerable international activity as KAEC steps up plans to attract international investment and tourism.

The city's 'industrial valley' phase, for example, has so far attracted 70 global manufacturers, while new laws are also expected to make KAEC the first place in Saudi Arabia where foreign individuals can own property.

However, a source familiar with the situation noted that KAEC is "behind schedule" and something of a "white elephant". The global financial crisis has served to stall plans to create the region's largest financial centre, with development now focusing on other industries.

In addition, neighbouring cities such as Dubai, Abu Dhabi and Bahrain, all offer competing hubs with easier visa and foreign ownership regulations. Saudi cities Dammam and Jubail, meanwhile, possess existing infrastructure, and are closer to key company Saudi Aramco.

KAEC's listed parent company Emaar, the Economic City has previously worked with Memac Ogilvy and Asda'a Burson-Marsteller. In addition, Edelman handled project work earlier this year, focusing on the visit of an Obama-led delegation to the Kingdom.

Maria Al Zahrani, KAEC's senior manager of investment promotion and strategy, said that the project is seeking a PR agency to "promote investments in industrial and other assets within KAEC and to attract investments internationally."

Currently, added Al Zahrani, KAEC works with "multiple local and international firms."

KAEC is one of five Saudi economic cities that hope to create 1m jobs in a country where youth unemployment presents a major demographic challenge.