The first of a series of symposia organized by the government through the Embassy in Washington was held in Bloomington, Minnesota over the weekend and drew in an unexpected number of businesses, both Liberian and foreigners to discuss trade and investment possibilities in Liberia. Although it was given just a couple of weeks to get ready and put things in place after the change of date from Washington, DC, the local organizing team headed by Mr. Kerper Dwanyen of ACME Mortgage Corporation was able to pull a successful and seamless conference that brought together potentials investors, representatives of the government and many officials of the state of Minnesota for a one-day long reflection on the economic potentials of Liberia.
Lands, Mines & Energy Minster Eugine Shanon (L) and NIC Chairman Richard Tolbert (R)
Mr. Richard Tolbert, Chairman of the National Investment Commission along with the Minister of Lands, Mines and Energy Dr. Eugene Shannon, Mr. Christopher Neyor, Advisor to the President, E.C. B. Jones, Deputy Minister of Lands and Mine and Energy, the Deputy Governor of the Central Bank Mr. Richard Doley joined the embassy staff headed by Ambassador Charles Minor and Ms. Gurly Gibson, coordinator of the symposium.
Participants came from as far as California and Texas and other Midwestern state to take part in what has been termed by NIC Chairman Tolbert as a great success that must be repeated in many other cities to give Liberia the kind of exposure it needs to attract investors. Mr. Tolbert said that “Liberia was open for business”, adding, “collectively, we must work together to maximize its great potentials.” Both Chairman Tolbert and Minister Shannon paid tribute to the vision and leadership of President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf who chaired the February 2007 Business Forum in Washington, DC.
From the quality of the presentations to the discussions that followed, the symposium remained on target throughout the day and allowed participants to discuss not only the great business possibilities in Liberia but also recent trade and investment policies undertaken by the government to make the country business-friendly.
Minnesota Trade Conference
The Minnesota event coincided with the first shipment of diamonds from Liberia since the lifting of the UN sanctions imposed on the country to curtail the traffic of stones for arms of the Charles Taylor regime. Minister Shannon seized the occasion to speak at length about the geological makeup of the Liberian soil and its potentials, pointing the many minerals in industrial quantity. He said that because of its geological formation, Liberia may not have oil, like neighboring Côte d’Ivoire or Ghana but contains many extractive resources.
Discussions centered on a wide range of issues in various economic sectors including but not limited to Housing and Transportation, Education, Agriculture and Forestry, Power and Electricity, Mining and Natural Resources, Information Technology and Financing Options.
The symposium was also attended by Minnesota International Representative for Africa, Ms. Jennifer Kocs, Mr. Peter Ballinger, Director of Business Development of the Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC) and Mr. John Manning, Program Officer for Africa at CHF. Mr. Ballinger and Mr. Manning specially discussed the financing of small and medium enterprises in Liberia through the US $30 million that OPIC and Robert L. Johnson made available to Liberian entrepreneurs and disbursed though CHF.
The next session of the symposium will take place in Washington, DC on October 1 and will center essentially of the development of small and medium enterprises. Small business owners and banking institutions will take center stage. Vice-President Joesph Boakai and several ministers of government as well as American officials are expected to attend the Washington, DC meeting. After the nation capital, the show would move to Atlanta, Georgia on October 6, 2007. California will follow soon thereafter.
Organizers from the embassy as well as government delegates all say that the challenge ahead would be to match or surpass the Minnesota Symposium. “It was a great success, in terms of cooperation between government and the Liberian community, mobilization of resources and sponsors and participation of local authorities,” remarked symposium coordinator, Ms. Gurly T. Gibson.
Key sponsors for the series of symposium include Air McPhillips of London, Transworld International, Georges Edwards Consulting and the International Resources Group. Mr. Stanley Ford and Sunny Nyemah both of Georges Consulting worked with local chair Kerper Dwanyen to coordinate the symposium in Minnesota.
© 2007 by The Perspective
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