Architect cultivates business in Islamic ex-USSR

Wednesday, June 26, 2002


By Scott Moyers ~ Southeast Missourian

After the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, business had begun to dry up for Cape Girardeau landscape architect Paul Klaus. Much of Klaus' work is for municipalities and the slowdown was compounded by the state's budget crunch.

"A lot of the work is still there, but there's just no funding for it right now," Klaus said. "I was beginning to think about other work I might be able to get."

Klaus never imagined that his successful search for work would take him halfway around the world, through 10 time zones and across 11,000 miles to the central Asian country of Uzbekistan, a former republic of the Soviet Union, itself dealing with terrorism as well as human rights issues, a non-convertible currency and the slow conversion to a free market society.

"When I first heard Uzbekistan mentioned, my head turned," Klaus said. "I've never been to that part of the world. But the first thing I thought was that this could be an adventure."

It turned out to be exactly that: In addition to seeing much of a country that is slightly larger than the state of California, Klaus met foreign dignitaries, bankers, engineers, other architects as well as participating in less civilized pursuits such as watching goats used as lawn mowers, drinking warm Cokes and visiting sites that had been bombed by a faction of al-Qaida.

Business adventure

More than an adventure, it was also a successful business trip for Klaus, who returned to the United States a little more than two weeks ago with agreements to do landscape architecture work for two colleges, a city park, an employee training center and a VIP retreat. He is even looking to work on new U.S. embassies in the future.

Klaus said that, as far as he knows, he was the first landscape architect the people he dealt with had ever met. In a sense, he feels like he and the Uzbeks opened up a whole new world for each other: For them, a landscape architect to help them deal with their problems and, for him, a whole country full of potential work.

"Architects there are very frustrated because they have taken on my role but don't know exactly how to do it," he said. "They were taking a stab in the dark, looking at photos and trying to figure it out. And for me, of course, it was a great business opportunity."

Klaus' usual work includes designing fountains, working with irrigation and street systems as well as plants and installing pedestrian walkways. He has done work for St. Francis Medical Center and worked on the Kayla M. Stroup Fountain on the plaza at Southeast Missouri State University.

"I do everything an architect does, except on the outside," he said.

Agriculture opportunities

Uzbekistan, which emerged as a free state after the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991, was first mentioned as a possible job site to Klaus by Steven Welker. Welker is the coordinator of Dexter-based Bootheel Resource Conservation and Development, Inc., a division of the U.S. Department of Agriculture that is dedicated to protecting and conserving water resources, developing farming techniques and cultivating agribusiness in Southeast Missouri.

Welker had been to Uzbekistan several times in recent years, most recently to help set up a pilot program that would allow Southeast Missouri farmers to grow Uzbek melons.

The program was paid for with a grant from USDA's Foreign Agriculture Service/International Cooperation and Development. Travel funds for such globalization projects were obtained from Arlington, Va.-based Winrock International through their Farmer-to-Farmer program that is funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development.

The programs are intended to work with people around the world to increase economic opportunities between other countries and the United States.

"It's globalization," Welker said. "Everyone's thinking globally, but it's just harder for small-to-medium size businesses to think that way. It's our job to help them think outside the box."

Welker said he mentioned that the program could be used to pay for Klaus' "reconnaissance mission" to go to Uzbekistan to look for work. Welker admitted a program primarily for agriculture may sound like an odd fit for a landscape architect.

"We looked at the fact that landscape architects occasionally do some jobs relating to horticulture and plants and things like that," Welker said. "We also tied it to some of the water conservation work that Paul will be doing over there. If you consider that Uzbekistan is an arid country, very quickly this fits the bill."

Klaus and Welker went to Uzbekistan at the end of May. Welker continued his work on the melon project and tried to get Southeast Missouri farmers a portion of Uzbekistan's $60 million rice import market.

Klaus met with some contacts that Welker had set him up with, including lawyer Sergei Vinin, who owned part of a granite and construction company. While there, Vernin introduced Klaus to people in construction.

Klaus and Welker spent about $5,000 apiece in federal dollars on their recent trip.

At Khanabot City, Klaus met the mayor and landed a job to design portions of a city park. He also introduced them to mulch. They didn't have it there because there is very little wood. Instead, Klaus came up with the idea to grind up wood stems from the cotton fields that would act like mulch and hold water.

'Like in America'

"They're very enamored with Americans," he said. "They kept saying 'Do it like you would in America.' They have different ways of doing things there. They don't have a lot of the equipment we have. I never saw a lawnmower. I saw sheep and cows being used to eat the grass. People have to work very hard. It's very labor intensive."

He also met with top officials from Asaka National Bank, the second largest bank in Uzbekistan. The bank hired him to work on an employee training center in the national capital, Tashkent, a city of 2 1/2 million people. He will design a fountain and do a master plan for the center's exterior. The bank also hired him to design the exterior of a resort where high-ranking bankers will bring visitors.

Klaus also met with officials from separate colleges in Andijan, a sports college and a construction trade college. He will help them with campus expansions.

While at the Asaka headquarters, security was very tight. When Klaus asked Sergei Vernin why is was strict, he was told that it was because the bank had been bombed by al-Qaida.

Security was tight across Uzbekistan, Klaus said.

"We were free to go anywhere," he said. "But if they asked you to stop, you stopped. They would check you out. Our driver got pulled over a few times. They checked our IDs and we were on our way. No big deal."

Coca-Cola was served warm.

"They don't have much ice over there," he said. "They would serve Coke and pour it in your glass. You might ask for something cold, and they would get embarrassed and say they don't have it. It took some getting used to."

Though the weather seemed similar to Southeast Missouri, Klaus said there are a lot of geographical differences that he plans to prepare for when he goes back in two or three months to begin his work.

"The soils are different, the water access is different," he said. "But what I like is that they're open for any new ideas. I hope to make some improvements with some of my work, big colorful changes."

High on cotton

Unlike its poorer neighbors, Uzbekistan is a medium-income country of secular Moslems. It is the fourth largest grower of cotton in the world and the fifth largest gold producer. It also produced more than 60 percent of all the Soviet Union's fruits and vegetables.

Klaus plans to introduce new species of seeds and plants into the area as well as institute some western ideas into the landscape. He said that in Uzbekistan, landscaping is used, but it seems to lack rhyme or reason.

For example, in Uzbekistan, there are open ditches on both sides of streets. People have to walk over them and if they park their cars to close to the curb, they might drive into the ditch, Klaus said.

More Uzbekistan work may be forthcoming. Klaus is working with U.S. Rep. Jo Ann Emerson's office to see about joining on to do landscape architecture for a new U.S. embassy in Uzbekistan. Emerson's office did not return a phone call Tuesday.

Other embassies will be built there, too. Klaus said he hopes to do a lot of work there in the future.

"The trip turned out better than I ever imagined," Klaus said. "Never in my wildest dreams did I think it was going to be that successful. I can see that region as a large percentage of my work."

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