Kuwait-Maryland Partnership loses momentum, office

November 13, 1991|By Ted Shelsby T

It seemed like such a great idea at the time.

The reports from war-torn Kuwait indicated that it had been virtually destroyed by invading Iraqi forces. Original estimates put the cost of rebuilding the tiny Persian Gulf nation at $100 billion, maybe even $150 billion.

Eager to grab a piece of this action, a small group of Maryland businessmen established the Kuwait-Maryland Partnership Inc., a one-stop office where the Kuwaiti government could order a wide variety of goods and services from throughout the United States.

The private venture had the enthusiastic support of Gov. William Donald Schaefer and the Department of Economic and Employment Development, although the state had no financial investment in the program.

But nine months later, the Kuwait-Maryland Partnership is still waiting for its first dollar of business from Kuwait.

It has closed its offices in the World Trade Center at the Inner Harbor and Kuwait City. Some of its original officers have resigned.

"It has been very disappointing," Blase Cooke, treasurer of the partnership, said yesterday.

Mr. Cooke, who is also president of Harkins Builders Inc., a Silver Spring-based general contracting company, said that the partnership was misled by early reports. "They were talking about $100 billion worth of damage at one time. No way. What we're pursuing is just a few percent of that amount."

The U.S. Department of Commerce recently estimated that Kuwaiti reconstruction costs have been pared down to between $20 billion and $25 billion over five years. Major rebuilding contracts may total $5 billion in the next few years. The Commerce Department could not say yesterday how much business associated with the rebuilding of Kuwait had gone to U.S. companies.

The Kuwait-Maryland Partnership also drew encouragement from the governor's close ties to Kuwait's ruling family.

Under terms of an agreement reached earlier this year between the state and Kuwaiti Ambassador Saud Nasir al-Sabah, Maryland companies were to be designated for preferential treatment in supplying goods and services to the Persian Gulf nation.

The accord also stipulated that Kuwait would route goods shipped from the United States through the port of Baltimore whenever it was economically feasible.

Thousand of state businesses and individuals registered with the business group.

Mr. Cooke said yesterday that the partnership is "still an active and viable business." If it sees a business opportunity in Kuwait it would be ready to respond, he said.

At this time, he said, any inquiries from Kuwait would likely go to one of the partners. "They know who we are and how to reach us." As for the Kuwait-Maryland Partnership itself, he added: "The corporation is still set up to do business, but it's on the shelf right now."

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