- The Washington Times - Sunday, May 6, 2012

The fall of Moammar Gadhafi has paved the way for the U.S. business community to invest in Libya as the troubled Middle Eastern nation tries to rebuild itself after a civil war tore the country apart last year.

After a trip last month to the new Libya, the U.S.-Libya Business Association says the country would make a good investment for many American companies. The trade organization, along with some 20 member companies from the U.S., spent eight days there, meeting with government and business officials.

“The message they sent us very loud and clear is that Libya is open for business,” USLBA Executive Director Chuck Dittrich, who led the trip, told reporters Friday, “and we want the Libyans to know the U.S. is interested in doing business over there.”

The U.S.-Libya Business Association made the trip to assess the country’s needs and were told by Libyan officials that the country’s priorities are security, higher education and vocational training, and health care.

Mr. Dittrich said he was impressed with the country’s current level of safety, which will be crucial going forward if U.S. companies plan to invest there.

“Tripoli was much safer than I anticipated,” Mr. Dittrich said. “I did not feel a sense of tension in the air. It was very much a relaxed atmosphere.”

That said, “If you’re an American and you do get mugged, there’s no 911 to call,” he added.

Though Mr. Dittrich acknowledged that its well-organized oil industry is and will remain the life blood of Libya’s economy, he said the American business group also expects opportunities for investment to open up in infrastructure and tourism.

“Tourism is going to be another growing sector,” Mr. Dittrich said. “It’s a beautiful coastline that’s not developed.”

But for now, the U.S. business community is focused on building lasting relationships with Libyans.

“We didn’t go over there to sign contracts or immediately sell products,” Mr. Dittrich said. “We want to develop relationships with them.”

Dennis Thompson, vice president of U.S. business development at RMA Group, who also made the trip, agreed.

“You’ve got to have patience,” he said. “You’re not going to sign a contract the day you hit the ground. Nobody had any reasonable expectation that this post-conflict country was going to sign a contract in the first visit.”

Instead, “It’s a race to build confidence” and trust, he said.

Libya plans to start building its post-Gadhafi government in June, by electing a 200-member constituent assembly that will pick a 60-member panel to write a permanent constitution and submit it to a national referendum.

Story Continues →