The hunger in the Soviet Union was everywhere: the hunger for food, knowledge and technology. By far, the greatest hunger was for political and economic independence.
"They have a real desire to westernize their economy and become involved in the 20th century, which they are not at all now," said Bruce McMullen, who was among a group of Utahns who recently spent 10 days in the Soviet Union on a trade mission.The transition from a centralized economy to a free market society will be slow, but the Utahns who took part in the mission believe the visit will help foster trade opportunities for Utah businesses as well help the Soviet republics sow the seeds of economic development.
The needs are many. For example, the Utah delegation visited a hotel in Soviet Georgia that had been under construction for nearly 10 years. It was two years in the planning stages and six years in construction.
"And the thing still isn't done. The reason it's taking so long is they don't have any equipment," said Jim Jensen, chairman of the board of the Salt Lake law firm of Woodbury, Jensen, Kesler & Swinton.
Even if they had the equipment to construct buildings, Georgians would have to look outside the Soviet Union for long-term financing. "There is no ability to obtain long-term financing in the economy. All the loans we came across were one-year notes," said Sam Stewart, senior partner in Wasatch Advisors, a Utah firm that manages $100 million in public stock investments.
Some of the needs are simpler. Soviet Georgia, located on the Black Sea, has considerable citrus orchards, but Georgians lack the technology to process orange juice for large-scale marketing.
Before departing for the Soviet Union, the group was prepared to share its expertise in finance, high technology and basic business practices. But Stewart said the concepts would have been too radical for a culture that hasn't changed much in 50 years. Ten-year-old technology would suffice at this point, Stewart said.
While their Soviet counterparts were generally well-educated, ethical and entrepreneurs in their own right, the Georgians lacked basic skills they need to compete in the free market.
Basic business concepts such as balance sheets, cost accounting and advertising were difficult for the Georgians to grasp, largely because they have had little exposure to free-market systems.
There also were a few problems with translations. Many of the people they met were inventors and innovators, but there was no Georgian word for entrepreneur.
The mission was funded by private partners, including Amirani Corp. a trading company based in Utah, and Ikalto, the business arm of the USSR Georgian Academy of Sciences.
In addition to learning about Soviet business practices and native culture, members of the delegation also initiated business deals during the trip.
McMullen, a local businessman with projects in waste water and fertilizer, signed a letter of intent to manufacture and market hardware that produces wooden and plastic molding for distribution in the United States and Canada.
Perry Lane, a businessman with experience in the development and distribution of medical products, appears to have cultivated new customers for surgical and medical supplies.
Jensen said he is working with attorneys to help develop laws that would liberalize trade in the Soviet Union.
Utah business may some day provide goods and services throughout the Soviet Union. Soviet Georgia is a good place to start, Jensen said.
"Pick any kind of business. For instance they don't have any popcorn over there. That's popcorn for 300 million people," Jensen said.
But much will depend on the political climate in near future. While Georgians have enough to eat, the people of Moscow are starving.
Jensen said he met a young attorney whose wife spends her days standing in food lines. Of late, most of their meals have consisted of milk, bread and potatoes. Now the potatoes are scarce.
Members of Moscow's Rotary Club and asked members of the Salt Lake Rotary Club not to send an exchange student to the USSR this winter.
"They told us `We don't think it's a good it's a good idea to sent a student from Salt Lake City. We're all afraid of civil war this winter," said Roy Jesperson, a partner in Wasatch Advisors.