From Michigan to the Red Sea: Building Global

Where many people may see hopelessness, Rochester Hills-based PAT USA, Inc. sees a promising business model that marries the pursuit of profit with humanitarian outreach – and ties in national security and international relations.

The general contracting and construction company, which is the world headquarters of the larger PAT Group, with offices in Qatar and India, is embracing business opportunities in places often associated with hunger, suffering, strife and war.

For PAT USA, that place is the African country of Djibouti, where the company opened an office in December. Djibouti borders Ethiopia and Somalia and sits on the strategic, possibly economy-boosting, shipping waters of the Red Sea in the Horn of Africa. The Horn of Africa lies in the eastern part of Africa, on a piece of land that juts in the shape of a horn into the Arabian Sea on the Indian Ocean and just across from Yemen and Saudi Arabia.

It’s safe to say it’s a part of the world that couldn’t be more different than Rochester Hills or Michigan, but nevertheless it offers opportunities for this local company – and others.

Rick Weaver, vice-president of PAT USA, is a believer in looking beyond the borders for mutually beneficial opportunities.

“We can help our own companies here by looking for opportunities in other countries. Any business owner who’s been objective over the last decade here in the state of Michigan has got to realize it’s very difficult if you’re tied to one specific economy. That’s why we look globally. If the economy in the U.S. is suffering, the economy in Africa or the Middle East may not be suffering,” Weaver says.

It’s basic sales, when you think about it.

“If a product or service can translate from Michigan to there, the smart thing to do is take that service or product there. So you’re adding jobs in a foreign country, but you’re also adding jobs here in our country. It’s a win-win for both,” Weaver says.

PAT USA’s opportunity in Africa is part of the U.S. government’s plan to fortify operations and relations in eastern and central Africa while also improving public and private services such as the Djibouti Airport, rail-lines and shipping channels.

The foundation of the Djibouti (pronounced zha booty) plan is to build infrastructure such as water lines, power plants, solar installations, even hotels and other commercial buildings that would come with economic growth. In the long run, Djibouti could be lifted from developing country to developed.

That’s where private companies like PAT USA come in.

“The U.S. government has determined Djibouti to be its location for a major command center,” Weaver says. “What we’ve done is gone over the opportunities that are far in excess of what their governments are doing over there. There are absolutely opportunities there.”

Weaver has visited Djibouti and has seen the juxtaposition of eager, energetic citizens with little, if any opportunity to channel that into a living. Just getting “sweet water,” or clean water, is an obstacle. He has sent employees there to work and hired locals as they wait to learn which projects they’ll be selected for.

Besides heading up major projects such as road building and water systems, companies can train local residents how to be plumbers, carpenters, electricians and other trades.

“Training their citizens in trades is a focus. They are a developing country, but many of the countries in central Africa are developing themselves. They’re finding oil, finding ways to get minerals out of their soil and rocks,” Weaver says. “What they need to do is teach trades to their citizens and they need to get an infrastructure in place.”

Hardship is a common headline in this part of Africa, but many countries are getting noticed for their double-digit growth in gross domestic product.

“The African nations are doing very well as far as getting revenue. Where you have responsible governments, they see their role as improving the lives of the people.”

PAT USA has been a part of similar efforts in other parts of the world, including Kuwait, where the company started in 1999 before opening an office in 2004 in Doha, Qatar, where it now has two offices. By 2007, it had opened an office in India and in 2009 began its exploration into a U.S. office. By 2011 it moved into the Rochester Hills office, which became its world headquarters.

In the last nine months, PAT USA has hired seven employees – engineers, construction managers, and such.

The growth is proof that business abroad is not akin to thumbing the nose at the U.S.

“When we open an office in a distant country, it does not take jobs away from the U.S. Building a building in Djibouti versus building a building in Detroit does not take jobs from America. You’re creating jobs in Djibouti, yes, but you’re not taking jobs from America. You’re actually adding jobs here, too. You need to have people here on staff to oversee these projects,” Weaver says.

And beyond the economic stimulus it may bring, he says it can’t be underestimated how the work may improve international relations.

“When you open a business in another country, what you’re saying or what the people are interpreting is these folks really do care about us. They’re willing to invest in our country…That means a lot to the local people, as long as these businesses being established overseas are doing business in an ethical and honest way. This is establishing good will for the United States.”

Kim North Shine is a freelance writer and Development News Editor for Metromode. Her last story was, “Designer Genes: The McGowen Brothers”.