Maryland companies have joined the intense international competition for the lucrative business of rebuilding a devastated Kuwait.
In a related effort, Dr. James D'Orta of Franklin Square Hospital is heading a 217-member medical team formed to aid Kuwait as soon as that country asks for it.
This two-pronged humanitarian and business response developed with help from the state Department of Economic and Employment Development and Gov. William Donald Schaefer, who met with Kuwaiti officials at their embassy in Washington Feb. 13. No state funds are involved, DEED officials said yesterday.
"The whole idea of this is to promote business in Maryland generally and to hold out the hand of friendship to Kuwait," said DEED spokesman Curt Matthews.
On the business side, executives of seven firms are spearheading the Kuwait-Maryland Partnership, which has rented an office at the World Trade Center. No contracts have been signed with Kuwait thus far, state and private officials say.
"We have solid feelers but nothing has been signed yet," said one of the seven executives, Louis J. Grasmick of Baltimore. Partnership members had planned to go to Saudi Arabia next week to meet with Kuwaiti officials there, but with the success of the ground war "it looks like we'll be going to go Kuwait now," he said.
Blase Cooke, president of Harkins Builders of Silver Spring, said the group is hopeful of landing short- and long-term contracts.
"We've offered them a package, one-stop shopping in Maryland, if you will," Cooke said, with the additional promise from state officials that orders would be expedited through the Port of Baltimore and Baltimore-Washington International Airport.
"We think we can be more responsive than anybody else," Cooke added. "That's our hook.. . ."
Cooke said the partnership will be "literally opening up this thing to all Maryland businesses when the orders are placed."
With the war ending, Kuwaiti officials must assess their needs, and so partnership officials say they aren't sure when contracts might be negotiated. The first call from Kuwait probably would be for D'Orta's medical team and for temporary housing to shelter it, Cooke said.
The offers of medical aid and business assistance were made together to Kuwaiti officials, Cooke said. The Kuwaitis appeared to be impressed, he said.
But Maryland faces strong competition from firms outside the state and foreign companies.
Kuwait already has signed more than 200 contracts, mostly with American firms, the Wall Street Journal reported yesterday. Motorola Inc., for example, will supply emergency communications equipment, while Raytheon Co., maker of the Patriot missile, received a $5.7 million contract for runway lights and air traffic control equipment for Kuwait's battered airport.
Contracts signed to date total more than $800 million, Kuwaiti officials told the Journal. But with reconstruction estimates running as high as $100 billion, companies that haven't landed a contract remain optimistic.
One of the first contracts Kuwait signed was for $45 million with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, to supervise the first 90 days of cleanup.
Meanwhile, D'Orta, assistant director of emergency medicine at Franklin Square Hospital, has formed what is being called the Maryland International Health Task Force. It's composed of volunteers from Maryland medical facilities and the University of New Mexico Medical School, said Matthews.
They're ready to depart on 24-hours' notice, officials say, though transportation arrangements haven't been made. "We're kind of waiting on a green light from the Kuwaiti government," Matthews said.