Go East, young man! (that is, the Middle East)

"Go west, young man," urged newspaperman Horace Greeley in an 1851 newspaper editorial, and, well, if you're a history buff, you know the rest. Families, individuals and even shopkeepers packed their belongings into a wagon train, moseyed past the Mississippi River and pretty soon were shooting it out with Jesse James and Clint Eastwood. Well, something like that. I watch a lot of westerns.

Anyway, today, it probably seems like all the new frontiers providing possibilities and mystique are gone, except for outer space. But Larry Harding, the president of High Street Partners, thinks otherwise. Harding's company specializes in helping small and medium-sized American businesses expand their operations into other countries by helping them comply with local income tax filings and offering monthly international payroll and a million other things that go into running a business overseas.

And if there's one piece of geography on the planet that this Horace Greeley of the 21st century thinks enterprises and entrepreneurs should be rushing to establish residence, it's the United Arab Emirates.

I couldn't help but be excited when I heard that. As a kid, I lived for about six years in the U.A.E., which if you look on the map is a tiny country next to Saudi Arabia. My father worked in sales for a steel company in Ohio, and they sent him -- and consequently our whole family -- to one of their branch offices in Dubai and later, the capital, Abu Dhabi. Because the people there were so nice, and it was just a fun country to live in, it wound up being something of an idyllic childhood, though a really hot one. It can be pretty decent much of the year -- right now as I write this, at Weather.com, it shows Dubai as being 73 degrees. But then, it's March. In the summer, 100 and more degrees and 85% humidity are the norm.

That was the 1970s, and it was a fairly progressive nation then and becoming something of an international hub for the Middle East. Now, it's booming, still forward-thinking, and almost as well known for its international finance and tourism industries as its oil.

So I wasn't surprised when Harding told me that U.A.E., particularly Dubai, is the place to be if you want your business to participate in the global economy.

His top three reasons why?
  • The country is in the midst of creating the "Hong Kong of the Middle East." It has very business-friendly taxes, says Harding, and an "ecosystem" that supports commerce.
  • The U.A.E. in particular is opening up for trade, "with an enormous backlog of technology and infrastructure needs to "catch up" with the rest of the world."
  • "Petro-dollars!" exhorts Harding. Meaning that it has oil, which means that it also has a lot of money, and happily, its government likes us, and the people there want to spend it on American goods and services.
The facts that our economy seems to be tanking right now, and with the difficulty of gaining credit for small businesses are actually pluses when it comes to small American companies looking to do business in the U.A.E., says Harding. "Now is almost a compelling time to look overseas to sell into their currently stronger markets."

It's nice to know that there's a silver lining in every cloud, even if that lining is oil.

Geoff Williams is a business journalist, primarily for Entrepreneur magazine, and the author of C.C. Pyle's Amazing Foot Race: The True Story of the 1928 Coast-to-Coast Run Across America (Rodale).
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