Six days in Georgia: A conversation with Kenneth Angell
Last year, OPIC Vice President Judith Pryor visited Georgia and wrote about the dramatic impact OPIC’s support has had on this small country that sits on the southern border of Russia, less than 200 miles from Iran. Here OPIC Managing Director Kenneth Angell, who has headed OPIC’s investments in the country for 17 years, talks about his work in this small country that is a key U.S. ally in the region.
How did you first learn about the need for private investment in Georgia?
I visited Georgia for the first time in 1992, shortly after the Soviet Union dissolved, when I was working for a consulting firm, to learn about the country’s small and medium enterprise sector. I returned to Georgia in 2000 as a senior investment officer at OPIC to perform due diligence for multiple hotel tourism projects involving the rebuilding or upgrading of two key hotels in Tbilisi. These became OPIC’s first finance projects in Georgia and helped to significantly boost tourism in the country.
The first blog post in this series outlined Georgia’s tumultuous post-Soviet history. How has this affected the country?
In the early 1990s, Georgia faced major challenges: an economic crisis resulting from the dissolution of the Soviet Union; political instability which led to a civil war; and aging and insufficient infrastructure. The Rose Revolution in November 2003 marked the end of soviet leadership, produced the first peaceful transition of power in Georgia, and was a turning point for Georgia as a democracy. Sitting President Eduard Shevardnadze was forced to resign after widespread protests over disputed parliamentary elections, but with the recent civil war fresh in the minds of Georgians, he realized that further conflict would take a toll and he did not call out the military when faced with protests and calls for his resignation. Since then, elections and transfers of power in Georgia have been peaceful.
How is Georgia important to the United States?
At a time of often strained relations with Russia, neighboring Georgia is a friendly presence in the region. And in an often unstable area of the world, Georgia is a bastion of democracy and strong proponent of free market economy.
In recent years, the country’s leadership has worked to stop petty corruption, and this has significantly improved the investment climate. When I first traveled to Georgia it was common for highway officers to stop cars every few miles on the pretense of a minor moving violation in an effort to collect a bribe. Georgia’s work in reducing corruption has set an example for the region.
Geopolitically, Georgia is a key player for the U.S. State Department’s New Silk Road Initiative. Also Georgia has been a key military partner of the United States both in Afghanistan and Iraq.
Georgia has undergone a dramatic transformation in a short time. Could you talk a bit about how the projects have helped foster stability in the region?
Since 2000, OPIC has supported 50 projects in Georgia with more than $525 million in financing and insurance in sectors from tourism and agriculture to financial services, education and healthcare. These projects have created local jobs, boosted tourism and expanded access to education, finance and healthcare. OPIC has and continues to make a positive impact in Georgia.