By Staff Sgt. Les Newport
76th Infantry Brigade Combat Team
LSA Anaconda, Iraq - More than sixty Iraqi and other third-country businesses recently crowded a U.S. military recreation hall for the Anaconda Business Exposition. Displays, computer presentations and business-card-armed representatives filled aisles and booths of the event.
Sponsored by the Regional Contracting Office of Logistical Support Area Anaconda, ABEX gives local Iraqi business leaders an opportunity to meet and develop professional relationships with other contractors as well as contracting officers of LSA Anaconda.
Jasim Al Sarraf, host nation business advisor for the RCC, organized the event and works to ensure that Iraqi businesses have a level playing field when it comes to securing coalition contracts.
"There was a good feeling for the Iraqi companies," said Al Sarraf. "It's going to help in getting (Iraqi business) easy access."
Al Sarraf wanted the exposition to supersede the standard meet-and-greet usually associated with economic outreach programs of the past. RRC offered two business workshops to provide participants with tools for success when working to earn coalition contract bids.
The first workshop, Construction Issues, focused on basic and standard requirements for construction projects and how contractors can prepare to meet those requirements. Al Sarraf said that miscommunication has been a source of frustration in the past.
The second workshop, Pitfalls in Contracting, focused on the details of submitting paperwork and certifications for a contracting bid. Al Sarraf said both workshops will go a long way to helping both sides succeed.
According to Al Sarraf, Iraqi contractors may become frustrated with the process if they don't have enough information to make sure their bids will at least be considered.
"(The workshops) were full," said Al Sarraf. "They need to know how to work with us. Understanding is very important; when they understand, they won't be upset (if RCC doesn't accept a bid.)"
Visitors were welcomed to the exposition by a newcomer to the greater Anaconda business community. Representatives of the Iraqi-Based Industrial Zones initiative manned a booth prominently situated near the front entrance of the hall. 1st Lt. Daniel Lotz, vocational training project officer and a battle captain of the 76th Infantry Brigade Combat Team, helped greet vendors as they arrived.
"After the overwhelming response to the Bakir (IBIZ) conference, I came along to help with ABEX," said Lotz, referring to an open meeting with business leaders late last month.
IBIZ is a comprehensive initiative to help Iraqis develop industrial and service support zones in the relative security near coalition installations. The Bakir conference drew an unexpectedly warm reception and generated enthusiasm on both sides of the security fence surrounding Anaconda.
Lotz was not surprised by the numbers of participants at ABEX since vendors had to preregister, but he admitted he was impressed with breadth and depth of businesses represented. As project officer in charge of supporting vocational education, Lotz was looking for opportunity, both near and far term.
"We want to partner with existing vocational schools and businesses, help them develop a plan that doesn't depend on Anaconda in order to succeed," said Lotz. "But we also want to be able to take advantage of opportunities here too, and the sooner the better."
Lotz' efforts will be measured in his ability to work with local business and trade schools to train and place Iraqi workers in stable positions associated with IBIZ.
Lotz believes the Anaconda IBIZ team of the Indiana National Guard's 76th IBCT will be able to make the kind of contribution needed to support Iraqi's bid for a more peaceful and prosperous future.
"We're citizen Soldiers with a lot of experience doing just this sort of thing back home," said the mechanical engineer and departmental supervisor for Parker Hannifin in southwest Michigan.
Al Sarraf agreed with Lotz' assessment of early returns, predicting the IBIZ initiative will bring not only more local involvement, but also much-needed resources for ABEX. According to Al Sarraf, the limited amount of space available for ABEX restricted the number of participants.
He also said heavy security measures limited the amount of time and resources local Iraqi businesses could expend, accounting for sparse displays and booth presentations. He envisions IBIZ facilities providing a middle meeting ground where both programs can continue to grow.
"It's going to help in getting easy access," said Al Sarraf, "and provide more time (for the exposition)."
Lotz agreed, saying there will be challenges, but that "if all the Iraqi business community needs is space and time, then that's a high-class problem".