The conference on trade opportunities with Ghana - a west African country slightly smaller than Oregon - will give local businesses with an interest in international trade basic information on state and federal aid that may be available to them and specifics on Ghana's resources and business opportunities. Ghana Ambassador Alan Kyerematen and County Executive James N. Robey are expected to address visitors at the event.
The program, more than a year in the making, was spearheaded by Ken Jennings, a member of the authority's international trade committee. He introduced the idea to committee members after he realized, on one of several trips to Ghana, that among the many businessmen he saw in hotels there, few were American.
"There was a lot of activity, but not a lot of Americans involved," Jennings said. "With Ghana Airways flying into Ghana twice a week, we're in position to be a gateway to development for all of west Africa. It's an opportunity for us to tap into this tremendous economic potential."
One of the main objectives of the conference is to educate people on a country most Americans know little about.
Ghana has a stable multiparty government and an educated work force, according to the Ghanaian Embassy. English is the primary language, and its literacy rate is one of the highest on the continent at 53 percent, according to the embassy's Web site.
One of the country's main exports is cocoa, and its government has opened the country up to international investment and foreign enterprise.
"This conference is really an extension of what we're trying to accomplish with the center, that is to build awareness and to help small and medium-sized businesses to become aware of what we can offer to expand or grow their international trade business," said Randall Slagle, chairman of the county's International Trade Committee. "Howard County has quite a number of small and medium-sized businesses, and a lot of them are doing business in Africa already, so we decided to focus on Ghana as a niche to see what we could do to identify areas for small business and to bring together people that might help them to expand into Ghana."
The conference, scheduled for April 10 from 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. will be held at the trade center within the county's NeoTech Incubator. A $25 registration fee is due by Thursday.
In the morning, guest speakers will give participants an overview of the country and services available that may help local business leaders take advantage of opportunities. In the afternoon, speakers will discuss products and services the country needs, and investment and manufacturing opportunities available. Later, a panel of local businessmen who do business in Ghana will speak about their experiences.
Theo Botchway, president of Botech Systems International, will be one of the panelists in the afternoon session. His company, which is an information service provider and does management consulting, has offices in Reston, Va., and Accra, Ghana, the country's capital and Botchway's hometown.
He said one of the hurdles for business investors is understanding the lay of the land - is there nepotism or government-endorsed monopolies that may hinder your work, and is there enough local capital to support your ideas?
In the information technology industry, he said, there is typically additional training required for college graduates, who have studied theory but have little practical application. Some information technology businesses are eligible for tax breaks or may be able to apply for fast-track processing of their foreign business license.
The investments, he said, in the people and industry are worthwhile.
"That training can be done in Ghana. You will get a whole lot out of that," he said. "You have to remain focused when you go to Ghana because the opportunities are many. You stay your course, I assure you, the return on investment will always put a smile on your face."