A n expatriate
Cambodian businessman, of the kind which the government is keen to attract,
spoke to John C. Brown about investment prospects here.
Entrepreneur Nick Ung spent a week in Phnom Penh weighing the
possibility of setting up a jewelry factory here for export to the United
He already has his own jewelry business in Los Angeles and
setting up his own supplier would be a considerable boost to his business. But
there are many pitfalls to investing in Cambodia and he is wary of
In fact Ung is wary of many things and still fears for his own
security here. He only agreed to be interviewed on the basis that a pseudonym be
Ung says investment here is an attractive prospect for several
He said: "Many things are good, the most important
consideration is the availability of cheap labor. In America the labor costs [in
the jewelry industry] are 10 times as high as in Cambodia."
Ung says a
second advantage is the fact that jewelry is already made here. "There are many
people with this kind of skill in Phnom Penh," he said.
advantage is that the people will work hard but the problem is that they do not
understand management systems.
"That is because many are not very well
educated at all. This is the biggest problem for investors who come to Cambodia.
The low level of education here means that the company owner must train the
workers in the company's system.
"But since I speak Khmer, I will have no
problem teaching my workers the things that they need to do. This is where many
foreigners have problems. This is where I have an advantage.
addition, since I know how to do every job in the factory, I can train my people
to do their job."
But he added: "I would never consider opening a jewelry
shop here, anyone who comes here to open a business to take advantage of the
opening market will not make money. The present economy will not support it."
Ung believes that technology he wants to import from the US will allow
the jewelry to be made more quickly.
The jewelry will be designed in the
He said he would make a final decision on whether to
invest here after his return to the US.
He left Cambodia at the age of
twelve during the Lon Nol regime to study in Hong Kong. He was trapped outside
the country by the fall of Phnom Penh to the Khmer Rouge.
When asked as a
potential investor in Cambodia what he expects from the Cambodian government ,
Ung said, "I only ask that the government protect me. I don't care about
"When I first came here I was scared about the security
situation. I thought that it was like the old days. But I can see that things
have changed. The number of security problems are less here than in other
"People think that it is worse, because every time something
happens, all the newspapers publish a story about it. Everything becomes