The American Chamber of Commerce in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq, known as AmCham, was founded in 2012 with the lofty goal of fostering and supporting US businesses operating in Kurdistan, as well as facilitating partnerships for Kurdish firms and business executives operating in the United States.
AmCham has since grown to 37 members, with a mix of American and local businesses under its current chairman Dori F. Abouzeid, an entrepreneur and CEO of a private aviation company who aspires to build on AmCham's foundation and leave a lasting legacy.
Dori considers networking and connecting US entrepreneurs with Kurdish businesses to be proactive steps, but he also believes they are insufficient. He is determined to see measurable results from these interactions and is encouraging follow-up actions. His primary goal now is to increase AmCham's membership, believing that a larger membership base will grow the organization's influence and allow for more effective lobbying efforts in both the United States and the Kurdistan Region.
“My vision for AmCham is to become a strong organization that commands the attention and respect of stakeholders in both the US and Kurdistan Region,” he said
He aptly compares this concept to weightlifting: “If you try to lift 50 pounds, no one will notice, but if you lift 150 pounds, people will say wow, he is strong. That is my suggestion—let us become strong enough so that they will say, ‘This is an effective organization, and we should work with them’.”
Targeting key sectors
Passionate about both Kurdistan and the United States, Dori is eager to promote Kurdistan's substantial business and investment opportunities. He is also determined to dispel misconceptions about the region's safety and encourages businesses to look beyond the conventional franchises and explore sectors such as manufacturing, IT services, solar energy, water management, recycling, and sewage.
Drawing from his interactions with Kurdish businessmen, he has learned that Kurdish businesses have faith in American products and admire the American way of conducting business.
He also underscored that the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG), led by Prime Minister Masrour Barzani, is eager to make changes to attract more businesses and diversify the economy.
Recently, the KRG took a significant step towards improving the business climate by launching the online Business Registration System. This move has substantially reduced the cost for a company to obtain licensing by over 80% according to government officials.
A delegation of about 30 US agriculture companies, including manufacturers of farm equipment and fertilizer, recently visited the Kurdistan Region. The delegation met with government officials to discuss policies, regulatory reforms, and initiatives aimed at encouraging companies to invest and grow their businesses in the Kurdistan Region and in Iraq.
Dori's ultimate goal is to encourage the growth of American businesses in Kurdistan, particularly in key sectors like manufacturing, IT services, and potentially banking in the future. He is convinced that Kurdistan will continue to be the gateway to the rest of Iraq, owing to its safety and well-established infrastructure in housing and transportation.
Paving the way forward
Despite these opportunities, Dori recognizes that there are challenges. He mentions a lack of human resources, particularly in the hospitality industry. Due to a lack of trained local personnel, many AmCham members face high costs by having to import staff from outside Kurdistan. To address this, he advocates for the establishment of vocational schools to provide locals with the necessary skills for the labor force.
He also emphasizes the significance of standardization for foreign companies registering in and operating in Kurdistan. He believes that a more streamlined and transparent process will attract more investors, whereas rumors about complexities may deter potential businesses.
Lastly, he would like to see the KRG offer greater support to AmCham members. As the relationship between AmCham and the government gets friendlier, he remains hopeful that a strengthened relationship will pave the way for enhanced economic cooperation and mutually beneficial initiatives.
MACAIR Where Aviation Dreams Take Wing
In addition to his role with AmCham, Dori serves as President and CEO of MACAIR, a prestigious corporate aviation firm based in Orange County, California. MACAIR has excelled in providing top-tier aircraft charters, sales, management, and acquisitions on both the domestic and international fronts since its inception in 2000. The company manages a diverse fleet of jet aircraft, including light jets like the Citation CJ4 and intercontinental jets like Gulfstream V, as a luxury aviation charter operator and boutique management firm.
With over 14,000 hours of international and domestic flight experience as a licensed aircraft mechanic and pilot, Dori's expertise is unquestionable. He boasts an impressive resume that includes flying distinguished country dignitaries and renowned celebrities, a testament to his passion for aviation.
Thirteen years ago, he set his sights on the Kurdistan Region when he explored the idea of establishing a national airline. After careful consideration of civil aviation and related factors, he deemed the project unfeasible. However, undeterred, he conceived a visionary plan for a state-of-the-art aviation facility that would provide pilots and passengers with unparalleled luxury and convenience. This envisioned facility would offer a relaxing pilot lounge, concierge services, red carpet treatment, and an exclusive VIP area.
Even though his dream facility has yet to come to fruition due to land and permission constraints, Dori remains optimistic that his vision will be realized one day. “Private jet travel is becoming increasingly popular around the world, particularly in the post-COVID era. Every international airport should be able to accommodate private jets,” he said, emphasizing the increasing demand for such amenities.
Dori firmly believes that MACAIR's services are a valuable addition to Erbil International Airport that will enhance its appeal and functionality. Having flown to numerous airports around the globe, he considers Erbil Airport to be among the safest he's encountered.
Despite Erbil Airport's excellent safety record, he believes it is unfair that insurance companies charge these operatives extra money to fly to Erbil.
He noted that since its inception in the Kurdistan region in 2011, MACAIR has been synonymous with excellence. “Over the last 13 years, the company has not received a single complaint regarding their services, customers, timing, or efficiency,” he said.
Moreover, Dori's satisfied clients no longer worry about safety concerns when flying to Erbil, given the airport's impeccable track record.
Meanwhile, he continues to lend his support to the region by assisting with aircraft procurement for Kurdistan and Iraq. In this capacity, he emphasizes the importance of aircraft maintenance to ensure optimal performance and safety and meticulous record keeping that traces each aircraft’s maintenance history and parts used.
Qassim Khidhir has 15 years of experience in journalism and media development in Iraq. He has contributed to both local and international media outlets.