HAMPSTEAD — It's a long way from Carroll County to the Middle East.
But for some businesses, the distance is shrinking as opportunity in the region expands in the wake of the Persian Gulf war.
Just ask Mark S. Snyder, president of Snyder Body Inc., a truck equipment manufacturer and supplier on Main Street here.
Snyder Body completed its first Middle East transaction about five months ago, when it filled an order from Saudi Arabia for more than $3 million intruck equipment.
And last week Snyder, 44, returned from a 10-daytrip to Dubai, United Arab Emirates. With state officials and representatives of about a dozen other Maryland firms, Snyder took part in a trade fair aimed at helping U.S. businesses develop Middle East markets.
Several hundred U.S. companies participated in the event, called "Made in the U.S.A." and conducted in Dubai from May 13 to 17. State officials said the companies drummed up some $28 million of business.
"There's a vast amount of demand in the gulf region for (U.S.) products," said Snyder, a former Westminster City Council member who lost his seat in the May 13 election.
Previously, the company'sterritory had been limited to Maryland, Delaware, southern Pennsylvania, northern Virginia, Washington and New Jersey.
But a listless U.S. economy, for one, has prompted the company, along with other American businesses, to seek new markets. The attention the Middle East received during the war also has led to heightened commercial interest in the region.
"The domestic market is down, so this is a good time to go over there and try to enhance our position," said Snyder, who bought the 100-year-old company about three years ago.
The company, which employs about 45 people, makes and distributes equipment such as beds for tow trucks, street sweepers, dump trucks and refrigeration trucks.
Snyder is working to fill orders from the United Arab Emirate for a variety of truck equipment. For example, the company is preparing to ship several water-tank truck beds for a fleet of General Motors Corp. trucks the emirate bought.
Other deals are in the works, he said, including one involving Turkey. While he won't divulge
dollar amount for the pending Dubai deals, Snyder said the Middle East orders should make up "a large proportion" of the company's business in the coming year.
Although the prospects are promising,the hazards of doing business in the gulf region are real. The immense distance involved can mean astronomical shipping costs and demand that orders be filled in precise detail.
Then there's the issue ofgetting paid.
"Dealing internationally is scary," Snyder said. "Anyone can get the business; being paid for it is the problem. There'sno 100
percent way to cover yourself. You put the product on a boat, wave it good-bye, and hope you get paid."
The business potential in the gulf region is not necessarily a result of the war, Snyder said.
"It's been a good place to do business for some time," he said. "It has come to the surface because of the war. We sell them things they don't make."
As well as being tantalized by the business opportunities, Snyder said he was fascinated by the people and culturehe encountered during his first visit to the gulf.
Snyder visitedthe open-air market district in Dubai, known as the "Hong Kong of the Middle East" because of its vibrant commerce and modern culture.
The Maryland entourage was mindful of cultural nuances as it traveled around the region. For instance, it is considered impolite for one to use one's left hand in many ways -- eating, waving, shaking hands -- or to make visible the soles of one's shoes.
"There was a certain sense of paranoia that I was going to do something wrong," said Snyder, who was introduced to members of the emirate's ruling class.