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Expat entepreneur pushes high-tech to the limit

Expat entepreneur pushes high-tech to the limit

I n spite of a second store across the border in Thailand, workers trained and

brought from the refugee camps in Thailand, years of experience working with

Camo-dians, and a strong commitment to building self-sufficiency, Bat-tambang's

Rowart Computer Group is on the edge of folding.

Richard Rowart says that

the long term survival of his company is in doubt. "We were able to put together

enough money to open our present operation which has grown in ability and fixed

assets, but over all lost money in 1993. We need to find new products, sevices

and markets or we will not be able to survive as a business."

The Rowart

Computer Group employs seven workers in a profit sharing plan. Many of them

worked with him in the Cambodian refugee Site 2 camp in Thailand. A second shop

is in Aranya-prathet, but the Rowart Group is attempting to create a

self-sufficient and profitable organization in Battambang.

So far

Rowart's company has sold 100 computers. Forty customers are offered technical

support for the computers that they have purchased.

Rowart says that

three fourths of his client base is among the Battambang non-governmental

organizations, of which there are about 37 offices, including Khmer NGOs. Five

percent of his business is with United Nation's offices in Battambang. The

balance of the business consists in computer training for

Cambodians.

Rowart says that "we promote local capability, we have

trained our own technician. In the past year, out of 200 computer repairs

accomplished, we have had to send only five items to Thailand for repair. Though

this policy has been more expensive we are commited to developing the skills

here, these skills have to be here, not in another country. In addition we now

manufacture electrical adapters, surge suppressers and grounded electrical

extensions locally."

Rowart had extensive experience working with

Cambodians on the border. The refugee camp newspaper that he ran, the Khmer

Citizen's Bulletin, had a circulation of 40,000 every two weeks. Rowart had 300

people working for him. In addition to this, his presses published16,000

textbooks each month and 120,000 exercise books. In the end Rowat was unable to

find capital for a printing operation so he decided to establish a computer

company.

Recently Rowart has developed a new arm of the business,

security systems. Rowart's company now offers burglar alarms for houses and

cars. He tells his customers that "on December 16, 1992 five armed bandits

successfully entered our office in Aranyaprethet at 1:30 AM and held us at gun

point while we were robbed, whereas on December 11, 1993 at 12:30 AM robbers

were frightened away from our Battambang office by our burglar alarm

system."

Rowat's company "lost money over-all last year," he said. In

spite of the advantages and support that he has had, his experience may

represent the best that is now possible in the Battambang area for a company of

this kind. Rowat is clearly the kind of investor that Finance Minister Rainsy is

asking to come to Cambodia, but his experience so far in depressed Battambang is

not encouraging.

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