Duane Schultz went home to America last week with a pocketful of business cards and a major task ahead. The colleague of Congressman John Mica, Schultz, came to Slovakia June 10 to help prepare for an August trade mission being organized by the Congressman to increase contacts between Slovak and American business.
The mission, which will start August 29, is scheduled to bring between 15-20 American business and political leaders to Slovakia for trade discussions and the week's Slovak National Uprising celebrations. It is the second such mission to be organized by Mica, who is of Slovak heritage and speaks regularly about Slovak-related issues on the Congress floor.
Schultz, 54, has taken on the pro-bono task of organising the business side of the mission out of personal interest, because he also has Slovak roots, he said. But now that Schultz has seen what the business situation in Slovakia is really like, organising the mission will prove to be more difficult that he expected.
"I came to Slovakia expecting to find companies that wanted to buy," said the former district representative for US Senator Bill Hawkins who now works for defence contractor EER Systems. "I found out that they want investors, that money is kind of tight right now. It's easier when you come over and say who wants to buy. Now I've got to go back and find people who want to invest, and its going to be a little more difficult because I don't have a telephone number that I can call up and say 'Hey, I have these 10 companies, who wants to come over here?'"
As a result, Schultz has decided to take a personal approach to his task. Instead of generally canvassing a wide range of businessmen to see if they are interested in Slovakia, he plans to actually look for investment partners from the 60 or so business contacts that he made here; from a battery company in Banská Štiavnica to a furniture producer company in Trnava.
"My job is now to go home and try to match the needs with the supply," he said.
The stops during Schultz's 10 day visit were largely organized by the Slovak Foreign Ministry. To select firms for Schultz to see, the ministry reached out to mayors and Slovak Trade and Industry chambers who were, for practical reasons, "two or three hours from Bratislava," said Alena Gažúrová, US Desk officer for the Foreign Ministry. Schultz also asked to see some companies near Žilina, as his mother was born nearby, and others in an area of high unemployment.
In Lučenec, where unemployment hovers at about 30%, Schultz visited the Slárne glass factory, a local bus repair company, as well as other representatives fro the local industry zone. The head of the district office in Lučenec, Ján Jackuliak, was pleased by the visit.
"Our region doesn't have foreign investors yet. Our district has developed several projects, but we are still waiting for investors for them," he said. "It would be economical and profitable for the investor, and also it would help the region. But with the economic and political situation, investors are still hesitant about giving up their money."
Schultz also met with officials and businessmen in Trnava, Banská Bystrica, Bratislava. In Banská Štiavnica, "they tried to get me to meet nearly every business man in the town," he said. The town mayor, Marian Lichener, said he was especially exited about the prospects of American investment in tourism.
Though he works for a defence contractor, Schultz didn't look at any defence-related opportunities. He is thinking about investing here himself, he said, as he is convinced that Slovakia is a sound investment despite banking sector problems and a falling currency.
"Everything that Slovakia is doing right now is seen in the United States as positive. Especially with the president, this government is heading in the right direction and trying to do the right things. Of course there are still some problems, but this is just the beginning of the transition."
The executive director of the American Chamber of Commerce, Leighton Klevana, was similarly optimistic. "I see investing in Slovakia as an inexpensive way to get into the common market, which it will ultimately join," he said.
Congressional officials will also accompany the Mica-led delegation, Schultz said. Mica was in Slovakia in January leading a congressional delegation on a fact-finding mission. He was not available this week for comment.
According to the Slovak Statistical Office, as of December 31, 1998, the US had 9.7 billion crowns ($220.5 million) in foreign investment in Slovakia, making it the country's the third largest foreign investor, behind Austria and Germany.
12. Jul 1999 at 0:00 | Sharon Otterman