WESTMINSTER - Businesses from Carroll soon could follow in the footsteps of McDonald's, Pepsi Cola and Pizza Hut and get in on the ground floor of commerce and capitalism in the Soviet Union.
Members of the Chamber of Commerce here received a request last month from the U.S.S.R. Association of Foreign Economic Cooperation for Medium and Small Business, inviting them to participate in a first-of-its-kind business conference this spring.
Two county businessmen already have asked to be part of the U.S.
delegation to the U.S./U.S.S.R. Conference on Free Enterprise and Trade, scheduled to take place in Moscow from May 18 through 25.
Helen C. Utz, executive director of the Carroll County Chamber of Commerce, said she hopes other members will follow their lead. The number of American delegates, who each must pay the $2,950 in conference costs plus transportation, is limited to 500.
"We are hoping we can expand some local markets and match up business people with common interests," she said.
G. Melvin Mills Jr., owner of Mills Communications Inc., and James H.
Dulany IV, a real estate appraiser and developer, submitted brief corporate profiles, describing their businesses' principal products and services. The applications were translated and sent to the Soviet association.
"This is an all-new ballgame for the Soviets, and it will be interesting to exchange ideas on how the free-enterprise system works," said Mills, 48.
"If I go, I will keep all options open and be available to discuss how business functions in the U.S."
Mills, whose company sells and services two-way radio equipment, public address systems and cellular phones, added that spouses also are eligible to visit. Linda Mills, vice principal of Westminster Elementary, would like to accompany her husband and see some schools in Moscow.
"American businesses have a lot to offer," said Mills. "The Russian government is encouraging joint ventures more and more."
Meetings on joint-venture opportunities and the opening of Soviet Special Economic Zones are scheduled for the conference, which will take place in the Kremlin.
Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev will address the opening session, said Norman Swanson, director of the Center for International Cooperation in Seattle.
He called the conference "one of the most significant business interchanges on trade and economic cooperation in the history of relations between the U.S. and the Soviet Union."
Both countries hope the meetings will serve as a "forum for dialogue on trade and economic issues that influence business relations between them," he added.
Dulany, 49, who has been active in real estate and development for 22 years, said he hopes to share his opinions about a free and open market.
"It's useful for private individuals as well as businesses to own property," he said. "That ownership leads to accumulating equity and a credit base."
Dulany said strengthening the assets of the individual will lead to a strengthening of the overall economy.
He said from what he has read some Soviet officials are "moving away" from state ownership of business and property.
Mills called the conference a great opportunity to open other trade outlets, especially if proposed European trade zones limit American commerce there.
"We know they want us to come," he added. "We need to explore all the avenues."