The grandson of 32nd President Franklin Delano Roosevelt told GlobalAtlanta that opportunities abound for Georgia construction companies in Saudi Arabia, six decades after FDR established a relationship with the country’s first king.
Delano Roosevelt, a senior adviser to Jeddah, Saudi Arabia-based technology and energy think tank Xenel Industries Ltd., visited Georgia July 16 to attend fundraisers for the Roosevelt Warm Springs Rehabilitation Institute.
He is working with Atlanta attorney Wayne Reece, vice chairman of the Warm Springs Development Fund, to raise funds for the renovation and modernization of the institute.
Located near the Little White House in Warm Springs, where Franklin Roosevelt went for relief in his battle with polio, the institute is establishing a program to put its 900-acre property to work in rehabilitating Iraq war veterans. Officials at the institute plan to use cabins on the grounds to house families of veterans being treated there.
Mr. Roosevelt said that Saudi Arabia is in the midst of an economic boom that is prompting unprecedented construction in the Middle East nation.
“Everyone talks about the development going on in (the United Arab Emirates), in Bahrain, which is significant,” he said. “But that is just a fraction of the development going on in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.”
He added that more than $1 trillion was spent on new construction there last year, particularly on “economic cities,” with sites for technology and business development, being built near existing Saudi Arabian cities.
Mr. Roosevelt said that Saudi Arabia has set up an economic development agency to try to avoid the boom-and-bust scenario of the 1970s, when many U.S. companies took on one project in the country and pulled out when finished.
“If in your proposal, you also say we’d like to set up a full-time operation and hire Saudis and train them, that’s a big plus,” he said.
Saudi businessman Amr Dabbagh modeled the Saudi Arabian General Investment Agency after Singapore’s economic development group, which Mr. Roosevelt said is the best example of a nation attracting foreign investment.
He also said that U.S. investment could provide jobs to help create a Saudi Arabian middle class, another challenge to sustainable economic growth in the country.
Mr. Roosevelt became involved in Saudi Arabia after a 2005 phone call from an American doctor of Lebanese descent Michael Saba on behalf of King Abdallah bin Abd al-Aziz Al Saud of Saudi Arabia. The king wanted to form an organization promoting Saudi Arabian culture in the U.S., beginning with the grandsons of Franklin Roosevelt and Abd Al-Aziz bin Abd al-Rahman Al Saud, Saudi Arabia’s founder and first king.
President Roosevelt met King Saud prior to the Yalta Conference in February 1945. The leaders were friendly and their countries have been allies ever since, though relations between the U.S. and Middle Eastern nations have been strained by the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks and the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, the latter on Saudi Arabia’s border.
Delano Roosevelt and Prince Abdulaziz bin Abdullah, King Saud’s grandson, founded the Friends of Saudi Arabia, a Washington-based organization that aims is to maintain friendly diplomatic relations between the two countries by educating people culturally.
“Our elected officials here in the United States and a lot of their diplomats seem to be having a difficult time reconnecting between Saudi Arabia and the United States, and there are a lot of insurgent countries continuing to drive a wedge between us,” he said.
The group has held events in Dallas; Portland, Ore., and set up a traditional Saudi Arabian market, or souk, in Fargo, N.D. Mr. Roosevelt said the group’s membership has grown to about 5,000 people, and though it currently operates primarily in the West and Midwest, there are plans to extend its activities.
“We wanted to go to the middle of the United States, the heartland of this country, where the only information they have about Saudi Arabia is what they see on the TV set, which isn’t at all flattering,” he said. “There’s a vast difference between what does go on in Saudi Arabia and what is being portrayed to us through the media.”