Early press reports of the tremendous business and employment opportunities available in war-torn Kuwait were greatly exaggerated, an official involved in the rebuilding effort said Friday.

"The initial estimates the press came out with were way overstated. They were talking about $100 billion as the estimated cost of rebuilding Kuwait. Most analysts are talking in terms of $50 billion, give or take $15 billion, but in that median range," said Cordell Hull, chief executive officer of Betchel Corp. of San Francisco.The Persian Gulf war was

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mostly for Kuwait in terms of human lives, devastation of the country's infrastructure and long-term damage to its most valuable commodity - oil fields - he said.

Reconstruction of Kuwait will be a slow process, and U.S. companies can expect worldwide competition for the rebuilding projects, Hull said. The Saudis, Swiss, Italians, Germans and British also want a piece of the cleanup duties.

"There's going to be strong competition, even among the American companies."

While larger corporations - most of them American - have received most of the bids for the reconstruction work and oil well fire containment efforts, Hull said there is plenty of work for small businesses as well.

"I think you'll find there's opportunity to spread the work around," Hull told participants at the Kuwaiti Reconstruction Seminar, sponsored by Rep. Wayne Owens, D-Utah. Business people packed the Salt Lake County Commission chambers to learn about opportunities and how to bid for the jobs.

James McGraw, deputy associate regional administrator of the U.S. Department of Labor, told participants that advertisements of $75- to $100-an-hour jobs for basic laborers were also blown out of proportion.

McGraw said U.S. citizens actually quit their jobs in hopes of landing work in the Persian Gulf. Many were left jobless.

"Most labor jobs went to local talent. There are a number of unemployed people out there," McGraw said.

Of the jobs available, most of them are for highly skilled professionals such as engineers and pilots.

Presently, the reconstruction effort is getting off to a very slow start.

The Kuwaiti government has implemented a two-stage reconstruction plan. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has coordinated the first stage, which focuses on emergency relief and damage assessment.

Construction crews have been clearing rubble and repairing roads, bridges, seaports and airports. They also are charged with clearing mines and other unexploded ordnance.

"Living conditions are far from great, but they are improving," said Lt. Col. Robert Bauman, deputy commander for the Corps' Sacramento district.



Where to call for information

- International Trade Administration - 524-5116

- U.S. Small Business Administration - 524-5800

- U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Public Affairs Office - (703) 665-3936

- Kuwait Petroleum Co. (London office) - 44-71-491-4000

- U.S. Department of Commerce, Gulf Reconstruction Center - (202) 377-5767

- U.S. Department of State, Economics and Business - (202) 647-1942

- U.S. Department of State, Travel Advisory - (202) 647-0900

- Kuwait Coordination and Follow Up Center - (202) 505-0250