WASHINGTON -- He can't drum up enough business at home, so James R. Roane, a general contractor from Prince George's County, wants to try Kuwait.
Roane showed up at the U.S. Department of Commerce yesterday to obtain a packet of information prepared for firms seeking contracts related to the rebuilding of Kuwait. Tens of thousands of business people have called, written or visited the department since it opened its information clearinghouse Monday.
"I have my own business and I'm just trying to find out what opportunities they have," Roane said. "May as well. Not doing a doggone thing here."
The agency has 14 people manning 16 telephone lines in a hastily created Gulf Reconstruction Center, decorated with pictures of Kuwait and maps of the region, at Commerce Department headquarters. The volume of calls is so great -- 3,000 to 5,000 daily -- that the department shut off the phone ringers.
"The noise was just awful," said an agency official.
Although most businessmen are calling, some show up in person, as Roane did. While he was waiting for information, several other people arrived.
The department's international trade division is creating a data base of information from interested companies so they can be contacted as opportunities arise. The department is acting as a middleman, an official said, and is not involved in the awarding of contracts.
Businesses receive information from the department about Kuwait, the U.S. government's role in its reconstruction (principally through the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers) and names of companies awarded contracts by the corps on behalf of the Kuwaiti government.
Although many individuals seeking jobs have contacted the department, the agency says it cannot help them and is referring job-seekers to state employment offices. Small businesses, however, are welcome to contact the department.
Charles Louis, who operates C&S Fence Co. in Washington, also visited the agency. He has been thinking of contacting the Kuwaiti Embassy as well to "congratulate them and let them know I have a personal interest because my son was there."
The phone numbers are (202) 377-5767 and 377-5737. They may be called from 8 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. The address is the Department of Commerce, Room 2041, 14th St. and Constitution Ave. NW, Washington, D.C. 20230.