Maryland businessmen who traveled to the United Arab Emirates for an American products trade show last week expected to make contacts to sell their goods in war-torn Kuwait.
But they also discovered a Middle East market vastly larger than the tiny country the United States helped liberate from Iraqi occupation.
"When we got there, we found Kuwait is just a pebble on the beach," said Wayne Lambeoff, sales manager for National Wire Products Industries Inc., a Baltimore maker of fencing and reinforcing wire.
Representatives from 20 Maryland companies attended the Made in U.S.A. trade show in Dubai and an additional 35 Maryland companies sent literature to be distributed at the fair. According to the Maryland Department of Economic & Employment Development, the companies received written proposals or requests
for proposals totaling $28 million during the five days of the show.
"Dubai is like Hong Kong," Lambeoff said. "It's the gateway to the Middle East."
Gus Diakoulas, a partner in the Baltimore Design Resource Center which provides architectural design and manufacturing support services, said representatives from several Middle Eastern countries asked him to establish a resource center like the one he operates in Baltimore. Diakoulas believes his business can be a key resource for architects and designers doing work in the region.
"We never in our wildest dreams expected this," he said. "They are starving for American products."
Many American manufacturers wrote off the Middle East years ago as an area too unstable to risk investment. But Louis Caracciolo, a representative with Dover Poultry, a Baltimore poultry processing plant, said his company is ready to do business in the area.
"The region has stabilized," he said.
While at the trade show, Caracciolo said he met with Dubai's top poultry distributors, who were interested in purchasing millions of tons of frozen and canned chicken. So large is the order, poultry processors on the East Coast are planning to form a consortium to meet the demand.
"We were talking from a minium of a truckload up to 1 1/2 million pounds a day," Caracciolo said.
Although the businessmen were surprised by the opportunities they saw in the Middle East, state trade representatives were not. Eric Feldmann, director of the Maryland International Division, said he had hoped companies in the state would attend the trade show with an eye toward increasing their business in the entire Middle East.
"We wanted them to think about this region for a long-term strategy," he said.