U.S., Md. gird for new battle in quest of profits from rebuilding of Kuwait WAR IN THE GULF

February 28, 1991|By Ted Shelsby

After the war is over and Kuwait is finally free, another battle -- for billions of dollars in reconstruction contracts -- will begin.

Countries that stood shoulder to shoulder during some of the toughest fighting will be going their separate ways to grab shares of the business of rebuilding Kuwait.

There has been a flurry of strategic maneuvering at executive boardrooms throughout Maryland, in the halls of Congress and at the State House in Annapolis aimed at getting a big chunk of that business -- the total is estimated at $40 billion to $100 billion -- to U.S. and Maryland companies.

On the broader front, Representative Helen Delich Bentley, R-Md.-2nd, has introduced a resolution noting that because U.S. troops have done the bulk of the fighting to liberate Kuwait, U.S. companies deserve a big share of the contracts to rebuild the Persian Gulf country.

"Why should Japan get one contract there?" she asked. "Why should Germany get one contract there? Japan doesn't have a single troop there. They even pulled out their medical people.

"I say phooey on them. Our people were the ones taking the risk. They are the ones putting their lives in the line. I think U.S. companies deserve this work."

Saud Nasir al-Sabah, Kuwait's ambassador the the United States, agrees. In a letter responding to Mrs. Bentley's resolution, the ambassador said the Kuwait Task Force, which was set up in Washington to serve as the procurement office for contracts, has a policy of awarding the largest portion of the work to U.S. companies "in recognition of the immense sacrifice of the people of the U.S."

A report in Business Week magazine estimated that 70 percent of 171 contracts let by the task force, valued at a total of $600 million, have been assigned to U.S. firms.

Working in conjunction with the governor's office and the Department of Economic and Community Development, seven Maryland businessmen have formed their own task force with the goal of getting their foot in the door and their names out among potential Kuwaiti customers.

Louis J. Grasmick, president of a Baltimore lumber company and one of the founders of the Kuwait-Maryland Partnership, said the group is seeking to coordinate business operations throughout the state into a one-stop shopping center where the Kuwaiti government can come for a wide variety of goods and services.

To respond to what they expect will be Kuwait's initial needs, the group also has formed a rapid-deployment medical team, composed of more than 200 doctors, nurses and other medical people, that can leave for the war-torn area on 24 hours' notice. It is headed by Dr. James A. D'Orta of Franklin Square Hospital.

Mr. Grasmick said the group hopes that the humanitarian effort will win friends and lead to business contacts and eventual contracts. "But even if we don't sell them a single thing," he said, "it's the right thing to do."

Mr. Grasmick said the state task force is financed by contribution from businesses. He said the group, which opened an office yesterday in the World Trade Center, operates on a budget of $100,000.

William Parsons, president of Parsons Co., an architectural and engineering company in Monkton, is credited with the idea of coordinating the state's efforts to tap into Kuwait's massive rebuilding and is president of the group.

About 300 Maryland companies are working with the partnership.

As for the kinds of goods or services that might be needed in Kuwait, Mr. Grasmick said, "They need everything. There is hardly anything that you can imagine that they don't need."

Jane Howard, a spokeswoman for the Maryland Department of Economic and Employment Development, said that she knew of no other state that had taken similar steps to capture the Kuwaiti business.

In a move to speed the flow of cargo from Baltimore to Kuwait, the department also announced that the partnership signed an agreement Tuesday with Westinghouse Trading Co., a subsidiary of the Pittsburgh-based electronics and appliance company, to process all contracts and ship goods through the port of Baltimore.

One Maryland company that is likely get a great deal of work in Kuwait is Controlled Demolition Inc., a Phoenix concern that tears down buildings by blowing them up. Mark Loizeaux, the company's president, said he has been contacted by 20 to 25 organizations with operations in Kuwait that might need the company's services.

Other Maryland companies can expect plenty of competition for any business deals concerning Kuwait. A number of companies have been lining up for months to grab slices of the reconstruction pie. They include Bechtel Group Inc., a large San Francisco-based construction and engineering company, and Raytheon Co. of Lexington, Mass. Raytheon, which makes the Patriot missile, already has a $5.7 million contract to provide an air traffic control tower, landing lights and communications equipment in Kuwait.

International Business Machines Corp. is seeking a computer contract, and Caterpillar Inc. is seeing to supply generators. Dresser Industries in Dallas and Fluor Corp. in Irvine, Calif., are seeking to rebuild heavily damaged oil fields. FMC Corp. in Chicago is going after contracts to provide equipment needed to get Kuwait's sea terminal working again.

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