Peace Dividend for Maryland?


Partly as an offshoot of pre-war trade missions, partly to get in on the massive reconstruction of Kuwait, Maryland and local businesses have launched a major bid to participate in the rebuilding of that war-torn emirate in the Persian Gulf.

Under plans drawn up by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which has been hired under a $45 million contract by the Kuwaiti government to lead the post-war rebuilding operation, construction crews will soon begin clearing rubble, repairing streets and seaports. Another $500 to $800 million will go to restore emergency health-care, sanitation, communications, transportation and other essential services.

Still more will be spent on computers, generators and cleaning up ruined oil fields. The long term offers even more promise as Kuwait rebuilds its bread-and-butter oil production and refining facilities and key infrastructure items such as hospitals and universities. All told, experts say, the price tag could eventually hit $100 billion.

Maryland is particularly well-positioned to compete for this business. Even as the conflict raged last month, Gov. William Donald Schaefer was meeting with Kuwaiti officials to offer medical and business services. The state, one of the first to do so, has helped seven local businessmen set up the Kuwait-Maryland Partnership, to act as a single point of contact for a range of goods and services.

State officials are also pushing Maryland's superb East Coast location and premier transportation hubs -- the Port of Baltimore and Baltimore-Washington International Airport -- as ideal conduits to move cargo to Kuwait. A 217-member medical team linked to the partnership will be dispatched to the war-ravaged country as soon as it gets the green light from the Kuwaiti government.

There is unquestionably an element of self-interest in this effort, but it is also rooted in the state's on-going international trade efforts. No one likes to think of the devastation of war as an economic opportunity, but Kuwait must rebuild. Already, more than 200 contracts worth $800 million have been let by the Kuwaiti government, most of them going to American firms. Winning a piece of the pie won't be easy, but the state's economic and development mavens have acted quickly and decisively to put Maryland in the running.

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