U.S. businesses in the Middle East consider Plan B

Jordanian protesters from opposition parties shout slogans and hold anti-government placards as they gather in front of the Jordanian prime minister's office in Amman to demand political reforms.

TEXT OF STORY

Kai Ryssdal: The events of the last couple of weeks in the Middle East have been amazing to watch. Many would call it exhilarating.

Others would say it's been a good reminder that you have to be ready for anything. Even before they set up shop, American ex-pats and their corporate employers in the Middle East knew it was a volatile place. Early 2011 has them checking their contingency plans.

Marketplace's Alisa Roth reports from Amman, Jordan.


Alisa Roth: Jonathan Henkin used to be manager for Fedex in northern Minnesota. But about six years ago, he and his family traded the Midwest for the Mideast.

Jonathan Henkin: Wanted to always have a business and move overseas, and this seemed like the safest place in the Middle East.

Now, he runs a company called From the Earth, in the outskirts of Amman, Jordan. He sells a mix of locally made products: Jewelry, greeting cards, olive wood ornaments through a small shop here. You can also buy his stuff online in the U.S.

He says he's really focused on his business right now. But it's impossible to ignore what's happening next door in Egypt. There have been protests in Amman, but nowhere near like in Tunisia and Egypt. But Henkin knew where he was going. Jordan is relatively stable, but it does have its problems, like high unemployment and lots of poverty.

Henkin: For the most part, it's anticipated that things are going to always change here. So for us, turmoil in the region, I think is normal.

Which is why having a contingency plan is a normal part of doing business here. Whether you're a small businessman like Henkin, or a big multinational company, like Coca-Cola, Citibank, American Express or Google.

Walter Ulmer helps companies protect their interests in a potentially volatile area and plan what to do when things go wrong. The first priority is to protect people. Then there's the question of the bottom line.

Walter Ulmer: And then also, what's the impact on our business operations? Do we have production facilities in there that are being impacted? Do we just have sales and marketing offices?

And the contingency plans have to reflect the company's priorities. In Henkin's case, he's determined to keep the business running no matter. So he's given power of attorney to his Jordanian lawyer, just in case.

He says Jordan is home now, and he really has no intention of leaving. But the last couple of weeks have made him think.

Henkin: We talked last week when this happened, our family. Just like, we hope nothing ever happens here like that. And it was really, it came down to depending on the circumstances. 'Cause if war broke out in, say, Syria or somebody attacked Jordan that limits your options.

Part of their new plan is to track down important papers and set up a meeting spot. But he hopes they'll never to use it.

In Amman Jordan, I'm Alisa Roth for Marketplace.

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