>So, I hear alot of talk from people in various places (government, society, etc.) wondering why investors are choosing other destinations for their dollars (or riyals or dirhams or yuan). Having lived in the US most of my life, I’ve hit upon something that I think all of these pundits have missed. So, listen closely as I whisper this in your ear. No, come closer, we don’t want it to get out. The secret is…
Most potential foreign investors are NOT from here.
Are you with me? So, most of you are thinking, well thanks for that spot of obviousness. But, while I think most people understand this point intellectually, they’ve got no clue of it whatsoever viscerally. So, if I’m not being a smart aleck, what do I mean by this glaringly obvious statement?
This blog post started to firm in my mind while I was reading an article in the Jordan Times about investors in China pouring yuan into Africa. Interesting, I thought, they’d choose Africa. And then, mere moments after finishing this article, I went to get the mail for our organization from the post office. And then it hit… the Jordan moment. I was pulling up to the sidewalk in front of the post office. The police officer stationed there motioned to me that I couldn’t park there and needed to move. Well, now, it’s not like a) there’s a no parking sign, b) there’s a parking lot, or c) there’s any logic to that, but let’s just see how it played out. My Arabic is limited, but there are some topics that I can handle and I figured this was probably one of them.
I rolled down my window and leaned my head out (since the officer couldn’t be bothered to move two steps closer) and called out, “Wayn mahal il waquuf?” He came a tad closer and said, “Hadda Mamnua3.” Hmmm, okay he didn’t understand me, so I replied, “yella mish mishkili, bas wayn mahal il waquuf?” (okay this SHOULD translate very roughly into where’s the place I can park.) So he replies with a general (leave me alone) wave in no particular direction and says (bil 3arabi), this is the exit from the circle, it’s forbidden. Being a persistent and determined American, I replied again. “Mish mishkili, ana fahimtak, bas wayn il mahal lil waquuf?” Again he generally gestures and starts to get pissed that I haven’t driven off yet.
Now, again this is a POST OFFICE. It has no parking other than the sidewalk immediately in front and the officer tasked with keeping the circle moving has no interest in assisting me in finding a legal place to park. He was rude, annoyed, and unacceptable. I circled back around and parked making entrance into the circle more difficult for the 1.5 minutes it took to get my mail. Sensible, hunh?
So, this is a really little thing right? I mean, this type of encounter wouldn’t influence potential investors. You know, I might agree and yet, taken as a whole with the 3 weeks it takes to open a company, the 5 days spent arguing with the government over the company name (must be in Arabic, must make sense TO THEM in Arabic, must not be a person’s name, or contain objectionable words (like leadership as there is only one leader in the country)), and on and on and on. And take this with the challenge of getting the bank to open a corporate account and then getting stuck with whatever translation or transliteration of your name they want. When you start to see all of the little irritations, they really do add up.
The disinterest of this police officer in being of productive assistance to the citizenry of the country is merely a clear and obvious symptom of the problem. While the government truly wants to encourage outside investment, no one is willing to do the really HARD work it takes to make Jordan friendly for investment and investors. So, really, do they not get it or are they being disingenuous? I’m afraid it’s the latter not the former. If Jordan is serious about attracting foreign investment, here’s what I would recommend… do some market research and customer satisfaction surveys. Find out what the biggest roadblocks are to business people. Check in with companies that are partially owned by foreigners about what makes their lives more challenging. In short, understand viscerally that if you want foreign investment, you have to make it comfortable for the investor. If everything is a fight, I’ll definitely give up long before you get my money. Make it smooth and easy. And, while you’re at it, clean up the attitude problems of your government employees, I promise it will help…