Maryland business leaders attending the "Made in U.S.A." trade fair in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, next week won't be stopping there in their quest to capture a part of the business of restocking and rebuilding war-torn Kuwait.
William Touchard, vice president of the Kuwait-Maryland Partnership, said yesterday that the private-sector business group will leave the trade fair and go directly to Kuwait City, where it plans to set up a field office to seek new business contracts.
Mr. Touchard said that the Maryland group has been invited by Kuwaiti Ambassador Saud Nasir al-Sabah and that it is the only group of its kind to receive an invitation.
The Kuwait-Maryland Partnership was formed earlier this year by seven local business leaders as a way to coordinate business operations throughout the state into a one-stop shopping center where the Kuwaiti government can order a wide variety of goods and services.
Mr. al-Sabah said last week that he would steer as much of his country's massive rebuilding effort as possible to Maryland companies.
The reason, he said, was that he "was really touched" by the state's offer to send in an emergency medical team to aid Kuwaitis, many of whom were deprived of medical services during the Iraqi occupation of their country.
Doctors from Johns Hopkins, Union Memorial, Franklin Square and University hospitals are scheduled to leave for Kuwait May 17.
Mr. Touchard, who was president of Poole & Kent Co., a Baltimore County mechanical contracting company, until his retirement two years ago, said it was still too soon to say much about the partnership's planned office in Kuwait City.
"We'll just have to go over there and see what things are like," he said. "If we generate a billion dollars in business it will be a fairly large office.
"We want to get our office where the action is," he added. "We have to be aggressive. That's what the ambassador told us.
"While a lot of people are sitting on their fannies," he continued, "we're trying to ride out the front of the tidal wave. We want to get in before others. This will be good for the state's economy, and it will be good for the port" of Baltimore.
Under terms of an agreement signed last week by Gov. William Donald Schaefer and Mr. al-Sabah, Kuwait has promised to encourage U.S. companies shipping products to Kuwait to use the port whenever it is economically feasible.
Maryland has also been designated a "primary procurement agent," according to state officials, and Kuwait has agreed "to look at Maryland first" as it shops for U.S. goods and services.
Maryland companies aligned with the Kuwait-Maryland Partnership are negotiating contracts for the shipment of lumber, wallboard and fabricated steel structures to Kuwait that could exceed $36 million.
The Dubai trade fair is being organized by the U.S. Department of Commerce and the Kuwaiti Chamber of Commerce and Industry to acquaint U.S. firms with opportunities available in the rebuilding of Kuwait.