by Joan Tupponce
Ray Birk knew that temperatures in the Middle East could soar to 130 degrees in the summer, but he didn’t expect that type of heat when he visited Dubai in May. “We had to walk one half of a mile in our dark suits,” he says. “We felt like we were shriveled up like raisins in the sun by the time we got to our meeting.”
Birk’s company, Super Radiator Coils is concentrating marketing efforts in the Middle East because cities such as Dubai are still experiencing a surge in construction. “There is a lot of potential for growth,” Birk says. “The cranes are like flowers in a garden.”
Currently, SRC’s largest foreign markets are in Canada and Mexico, but Birk is hoping to establish an ongoing relationship with Dubai. (Foreign markets account for about 5 percent of SRC’s total business — about $76 million in 2008.)
“They are trying to build up their infrastructure and power,” he explains. “Oil can’t last forever. Now that the dollar is weaker our prices are more competitive.”
The oppressive heat that Birk experienced is a plus for the coil business, especially in power plants. They use millions of gallons of water a year, and “water is very expensive over there,” notes Birk. “It sells for 10 cents a gallon for water out of the tap. We can help them conserve water by using cooled condensers.”
Birk’s most recent trip resulted in several large quotes; one for a $40 million job. If SRC gets it, the work would be shared by all three of its U.S. plants, including the largest one in Midlothian. “We will continue to go back to Dubai,” he says. “We feel there is a good niche for us overseas.”
Even though he dreads the 14 hour flight to Dubai, Birk enjoys visiting the cosmopolitan city. Dubai, which sits on the southern coast of the Persian Gulf, is the most populated city in the United Arab Emirates. The city’s most recognizable symbol today is the open-sail design of Burj Al Arab, the world’s tallest freestanding hotel.
“Seeing the old and the new in Dubai is amazing,” says Birk. “For example, they have an indoor ski slope attached to a five-story mall. People go there to play in the snow because the kids have never seen snow.”
Activities in Dubai include camel rides, safaris and sand skiing down the dunes. “They take you to a camp on the sand dunes,” explains Birk. “They have belly dancers, traditional Middle Eastern food and you can ride on a camel. It’s a good thing to do once.”
The contrasting older side of Dubai is filled with canals and traditional souk or market shopping along the alleyways. Crowds of people fill the streets as they bargain for everything from electronics to silks from India.
The city’s economy
Because of its Middle Eastern location, it would be logical to presume that Dubai’s economy profits from the sale of oil and natural gas. However, they represent only a small percentage — 6 percent in 2006 — of the city’s revenue. Main economic drivers are tourism, real estate and financial services. The city’s construction boom also adds to Dubai’s economy. Dubai’s hotel industry hosted 7.5 million guests in 2008, an increase of 8.3 percent compared with 2007. Companies headquartered in Dubai include Daallo Airlines; Acette, an information technology firm located in Dubai Internet City; and Dubai Studio City, which is involved in the film industry. Currently, Dubai exports to Iran, India and Saudi Arabia and imports from Japan, China and the U.S.
Where to stay
Birk says that Dubai hotels are “a bargain right now.” Rooms at the five-star Sheraton Jumeirah Beach Resort & Towers, which sits along the white sands of Jumeirah Beach in Dubai, are under $200 per night. Amenities include water sports, an outdoor pool and squash courts. If money is no object, Birk suggests a night at the exclusive Burj Al Arab. You can arrive at the all-suite hotel either by private helicopter or in the backseat of a Phantom Rolls-Royce with your own chauffeur. “The hotel is the only six-star hotel in the world and costs between $1,000 and $2,000 per night,” he says.
What to eat
“One of the best Thai restaurants is Pai Thai,” says Birk. “It’s a cut high above the rest.” Guests arrive at the restaurant by boat or a buggy. If you go, Birk suggests starting your meal with the spring rolls. “I highly recommend the restaurant for anyone who loves Thai food,” he says. “It’s not too expensive compared to other restaurants in Dubai.”
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