Schaefer trip to Kuwait may give Md. a boost for reconstruction contracts


ANNAPOLIS -- Maryland is ahead of most other states in the competition for billions of dollars in reconstruction contracts in Kuwait, Gov. William Donald Schaefer and state officials said yesterday after their return from a trip to the war-ravaged nation.

But with people living with no water, gas or electricity and the fear of inadvertently setting off explosives, Mr. Schaefer said, it's premature to look for business treasures among the ruins of Kuwait.

Jean Abi-Nadr, executive director of the National U.S.-Arab Chamber of Commerce, who also went on the trip, said: "The devastation there is thorough and traumatizing. And so, for American companies to think that they are going to start knocking on doors in Kuwait any time in the next six months is naive."

After that time, he said, major contracts will be written for the infrastructure projects, such as rebuilding the nation's oil industry. Major contractors such as Bechtel Group Inc., FMC Corp., Dresser Industries and International Business Machines Corp. stand the best chance of winning those contracts, Mr. Abi-Nadr said.

"It is very clear that large amounts of the Kuwaiti reconstruction will go to American project managers, so it doesn't pay to try to talk to the Kuwaitis because the Americans are going to be the general contractors," he said.

Small and medium-sized businesses would do better to wait until those contracts are awarded and try to win subcontracts, Mr. Abi-Nadr advised.

J. Randall Evans, state secretary of economic and employment development, noted that Maryland has financing programs that can help local companies buy material to be used in the reconstruction.

Also, he said, "Maryland is one of only three states that has an agreement with the Export-Import Bank" to guarantee financing for exports.

Mr. Abi-Nadr said Maryland companies have a strong advantage over those in many other states because of the groundwork Mr. Schaefer and some business groups laid during the trip.

"Maryland is the only state that has had the opportunity to meet with the Kuwait Committee on Reconstruction, the only one," Mr. Abi-Nadr said. "That is a significant leg up on every other state."

And I tell you,I am working with your competition as well,and Maryland is way out ahead."

Mr. Evans said he told economic development officials in Kuwait about Maryland's willingness to set aside facilities at the port of Baltimore and at the Baltimore-Washington International Airport specifically for shipments to Kuwait.

Mr. Evans said that chief executives of companies with operations in Marylandjoined the trip, which also included a dozen congressmen and various other business executives.

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