You mentioned that, with the fall of the previous regime, it was important for the people of Kurdistan to travel abroad. Do you believe that one of the primary goals in this action was to create more business experience and overall knowhow that could then be brought back to the region?
Sure. Our businessmen needed to gain better knowhow, to become more familiar with new technology, and to witness change. Even as recently as 2006 or 2007, many businessmen didn’t travel outside of Kurdistan or Iraq. A lot of them hadn’t even seen Turkey. Now our businessmen are very familiar with the business scene in our neighboring countries as well as in the rest of the Middle East. They have good relations with contacts abroad and are creating many opportunities (specifically joint-ventures) with Turkey, Iran, Syria, UAE, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Egypt, and other Gulf countries. Now, they want to be involved even further abroad in Europe, the USA, and China, so that they can get even more experience and create more additional relationships.
So, aside from increased foreign contact, what other elements helped changed the business and investment climates here in Kurdistan?
Another factor that led to the success of business is the Investment Law. According to the law, an investor can easily establish a branch here, which isn’t really common in the rest of Iraq or other neighboring countries. Foreign investors can own 100% of their investment. Europeans can enter into the region without a visa. So, these and other similar facilitations contribute to the success of business and investment.
What local companies do you think are having the most success in and around Erbil, and why do you think they have been able to attain this level of success?
As a result of the socialist system of the previous regime, there were no large private companies in Iraq. So, we can say that the establishment of private, local companies didn’t really happen until 2000. The first companies to become active were in the construction and telecommunications sectors. These local companies needed (and probably still need) some time to establish themselves in terms of finance and technical experience. In Turkey or Iran, local business began on their own and then foreign companies got involved much later. Here, it was the opposite. So now there are local companies doing huge projects relating to electricity, power, and cement. In the future, we hope that this progress will continue and these small or medium companies will become giant local companies.
Are there any specific local companies that started small and have now gotten bigger?
Yes, there are examples in each sector. For example, in the telecommunications sector, there are Korek Telecom and Asiacell. Both started small and now both are giant companies involved in big deals. In the construction sector, there are numerous examples of companies that started with small projects (like single unit homes) and now are quite huge. For example, Mass Company started with some small power facilities and is now developing large-scale power plants. You can find similar stories in nearly every other sector of the economy.
What would you say that Kurdistan offers to companies that are considering getting involved here? Why should foreign companies, outside the oil and gas sector, want to come to Kurdistan?
Other than oil and gas, there are certain technological areas that we don’t have familiarity with. We need to increase our knowledge, basically. For example, we can build very nice buildings. However, to complete the design with accessories, to make these buildings a certain caliber, or to make them state-of-the-art and modern, we need outside involvement. We have the financial aptitude and capacity, but perhaps we lack some of the artistic and technical ability. We need this expertise to be imported.