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Md. firms show little at Kuwait trade fair Despite pulling out all the stops, only 3 Md. firms are at fair.


For four months, Maryland has pulled out all the stops in pursuit of gaining business from the rebuilding of Kuwait.

Gov. William Donald Schaefer flew to the country with the Kuwaiti ambassador to survey the damage left by Operation Desert Storm.

He signed an agreement making Baltimore-Washington International Airport and the Port of Baltimore the designated points of departure for American goods bound for Kuwait.

A group of private businesses formed a coalition called the Kuwait-Maryland Partnership to help coordinate business deals.

But this week, at the first trade show of American products in Kuwait since the war, Maryland's participation was limited to three companies and two representatives of the Kuwait-Maryland Partnership who distributed brochures from a booth.

The Maryland showing is small in comparison with the state's participation last month in a trade show in the United Arab Emirates.

Officials in the Maryland Department of Economic and Employment Development said that in order to reach a larger market, they decided to put great effort into the show in Dubai instead of the smaller one in Kuwait.

The Kuwait-Maryland Partnership and DEED's International Division shepherded representatives from 20 businesses in Maryland and handed out literature from another 35 at the Dubai show, May 13-17. Altogether, 650 companies sent representatives.

Kurt Matthews, a DEED spokesman, said the international division did not send representatives to Kuwait because it lacked resources and the time to prepare for it. "We had to look at the resources we had and look at what we could do best," he said.

DEED also doubted the benefits of participation in the Kuwait show, believing most Kuwaiti businessmen with serious interest in Maryland products would have attended the show in Dubai.

DEED also considered the limited accommodations in Kuwait City and the relatively small number of Maryland companies that would be able to participate, since the show was limited to less than 100 companies throughout the United States.

But William Touchard, vice president of the Kuwait-Maryland Partnership, said he regretted Maryland was unable to put together a better presentation at the Kuwait show.

Touchard said one problem was that the partnership decided too late -- after the Dubai event -- that it wanted to go.

Although Maryland companies reported brisk business with other Middle East countries, there was a disappointing lack of business with Kuwait. "We decided we'd better get in there [Kuwait]," Touchard said.

But by the time the partnership applied for the Kuwait trade show, there was no space available.

Mobile Telesystems Inc., of Gaithersburg, agreed to share its booth with the partnership.

Mobile Telesystems, which also went to the Dubai show, sells satellite communication equipment.

The company had supplied equipment to the U.S. military, CNN News and the Kuwaiti government prior to the Persian Gulf war, so it was natural for it to participate in the trade show, said Brenda Webster, assistant to the president of Mobile Telesystems. The other Maryland firms at the Kuwait show are Stephens Engineering Co. of Greenbelt, a computer service company specializing in developing security for military computers, and Towson-based Black & Decker Corp., which is being represented by its marketing office in Dubai.

A U.S. Department of Commerce spokeswoman said 86 American companies are participating in the Kuwait show. Most of the goods showcased there are for Kuwaitis' immediate needs and many companies are selling their products right from the showroom floor, the spokeswoman said.

The Department of Commerce is sponsoring the show, and has billed it as an opportunity to address Kuwait's reconstruction and development of its infrastructure.

Peter McKenna, project manager for Glahe International Inc., which sponsored the fair in Dubai, said he believes it is too early for a trade show in Kuwait.

Touchard disagreed with McKenna although he said there is no way to predict how much business Maryland companies can expect to get from Kuwait.

A number of experts have lowered their estimates of the amount of business expected to be gained in rebuilding Kuwait. Reconstruction was estimated at $100 billion, but that has been reduced to about $20 billion.

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