Purchase of US town to help boost VN goods

by Compiled by Le Hung Vong

The purchase by a Vietnamese national of Buford, a town in the US state of Wyoming, as a springboard to introduce Vietnamese goods in America has been praised by the local business community.

While some local businesspeople once suspected the feasibility of such a “risky business plan,” many now consider Pham Dinh Nguyen’s decision “daring and wise.”

The story began in April 2012 when Nguyen bid $900,000 at an auction for the town. At that time, Buford had only one resident, a convenience store, a filling station and a telephone booth. It attracted about 1,000 to 2,000 visitors per day.

Nguyen has plans to change the town’s name to PhinDeli on September 3, at which time he will begin offering all visitors to the town free Vietnamese coffee.

“The name is a combination of phin, which is the Vietnamese word for the small metal French drip-filter used for coffee, and deli, an abbreviation for the English word delicious,” said Nguyen.

“I hope that selling Vietnamese coffee in the US will promote the product and the Vietnamese coffee-drip style to American consumers,” said Nguyen.

Nguyen said he had “appointed” former owner Don Sammons as “co-mayor” of the town, which is located 8,000 feet from Interstate 80, the main cross-country route between New York City and San Francisco.

He said he would turn a 200-sq.m. convenience store into a cafe that will sell two types of products, “deluxe” and “super-clean” coffee.

The coffee, which has passed all requirements by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for sale in the country, will be sold in 250 – 500g packages, Nguyen said.

To inform drivers of the town, new billboards with the PhinDeli name will soon replace old ones along the highway from Cheyenne, Wyoming to the town.

The businessman’s first targeted consumers are Vietnamese – Americans, who are more familiar with the Vietnamese-style drip method.

Nguyen will first distribute the products via Amazon, and will then try to place them at Asian supermarkets, then at larger chains like Wal-Mart or Cosco.

However, Nguyen admitted that it would be a tough road ahead for his business to gain success in the US.

“Everything is not simple, but I’m ready to pursue this dream of selling Vietnamese coffee in the US,” the 39-year-old Nguyen told Tuoi Tre (Youth) newspaper.

Commenting on Nguyen’s business plans in Viet Nam Education news magazine, chairman of the Ha Noi Real Estate Association Nguyen Huu Cuong said: “This is a big businessman with a strategic vision.”

Cuong considers Nguyen’s purchase of the US town as an act of “catching the US market early,” describing it as something similar to local investors’ purchase of plots of land in western areas of Ha Noi five years ago.

According to Nguyen Minh Phong, head of the Economic Research and Development Division under Ha Noi’s Institute for Socio-Economic Research and Development, the amount of money Nguyen paid for Buford was just one-fifth of the value of a house near Truc Bach Lake in Ha Noi ($5 million) bought by a businessman a few years ago.

“It’s encouraging to see a Vietnamese businessman own a private town abroad,” Phong was quoted as saying by VTC news.

According to coffee-market analyst Nguyen Quang Binh, many Vietnamese coffee brands have tried to enter the US market, which has 100 million coffee drinkers, but “it has not been easy to achieve success.”

“I like very much the new name of the town PhinDeli. It makes me think of coffee aroma and tastes, and it sounds very Vietnamese,” Binh said.

“Nguyen is a businessman who thought differently when he purchased Buford and renamed it PhinDeli. Now he is bringing Vietnamese coffee to a big consumer market,” Binh told Viet Nam News.

Casino restrictions

According to Decree No. 86/2013/ND-CP, only five-star hotels in Viet Nam may ask for a licence to operate a casino, while three – and four-star facilities will be banned from using this service.

Under the decree that takes effect in October, five-star hotels will be permitted to have only one slot machine for every five rooms.

Companies violating the new rule will be fined VND180-VND200 million, or could even lose their license.

Many three – and four-star hotels in HCM City and other provinces include casinos, with 75 slot machines allowed at four-star hotels and 100 at five-star facilities.

Under the new decree, these hotels with the operation of such machines included in their original investment licences or business registration certificates will be permitted to continue to operate them.

The new decree also includes the previous regulation that allows only foreigners and overseas Vietnamese (Viet kieu) to gamble at casinos.

Delayed power plant

The provincial authority of Kien Giang has shown impatience about the long-delayed project to build a huge thermal power plant on Ba Hon Town in Kien Luong District’s Binh An Commune.

It has asked the provincial Department of Industry and Trade to check the formalities and documents of the project before seeking approval from the Prime Minister to revoke the projects’ licence.

Huynh Vinh Lac, deputy head of the provincial authority’s Administration Department, said the project would likely be halted because the investor would not be able to proceed by June 30, as required by the province.

In August 2008, the Prime Minister approved the three-stage project, which includes a 4,400 – 5,200 MW thermal power plant and the Nam Du Deep Seaport on An Son Island, 60km from the plant.

The Tan Tao Investment and Industry Corporation (ITACO) was licensed to invest US$6.7 billion into the Kien Luong Thermal Power Project.

According to the license granted to ITACO, a subsidiary of the HCM City-based Tan Tao Group, construction of the first stage of the project, with an output of 1,200MW, was scheduled to be concluded by the end of 2013.

After receiving a license two years ago, ITACO filled 88ha of the site and built an eight-km embankment and paid compensation to the affected families who had to move.

But construction of the project was suspended in August 2010, and no further work has been done because ITACO failed to seek funds for the project.

However, the Kien Giang provincial authority has not made a final decision and is awaiting approval from PM Dung to revoke the licence granted to ITACO.

“At least four foreign investors from France, Hong Kong, Singapore and the UK have written to the provincial authority, seeking opportunities to invest in the Kien Luong Thermal Power Centre,” Lac was quoted as saying in Tuoi Tre (Youth) newspaper.

In a recent move, Kien Giang province’s People’s Committee has asked the provincial departments of Planning and Investment and Industry and Trade to collaborate with the UK’s Graham Bell and Associates Ltd (GBA) to re-start the US$6.7 billion thermo-power project in Kien Luong District’s Binh An Commune.

The effort to re-start the huge power project began in mid-April after the CEO of GBA, Dan Yap, sent a letter to the People’s Committee of Kien Giang, seeking opportunities for investment in the Kien Luong Thermo-power project.

The Kien Giang People’s Committee then told the provincial departments of Planning and Investment and Industry and Trade to meet with GBA representatives on May 20, with the aim of discovering GBA’s capacity for this project.

At a meeting in late April, the Minister for Industry and Trade, Vu Huy Hoang, told the Kien Giang provincial authority to revoke the license granted to ITACO, and to allow Kien Giang to seek a new investor for the huge thermo-power project.

Hoang told Vietnam Investment Review (VIR) that investors from Australia, France, India, Russia and South Korea who have financial and technological potential have shown interest in the Kien Luong Thermo-power project.

In late April, the deputy chairman of Kien Giang Province’s People’s Committee, Pham Vu Hong, said the project would likely be halted if ITACO failed to arrange capital for investment in Kien Luong Power Centre before June 30.

Despite being licensed five years ago, the project has barely made headway.

According to ITACO, the project has made no progress because of a lack of capital.

ITACO General Director Thai Van Men said that several foreign banks had agreed to lend the corporation capital to continue the project.

But to sign credit contracts, the company must have the Government’s guarantee, which it has not received.

Le Khac Ghi, director of the province’s Planning and Investment Department, said investors responsible for a project must use at least 20 per cent of their own funds to be eligible for a loan.

Ghi said the Government in recent years had been working to restructure the economy and manage the public debt with a new level of scrutiny, and the project’s standstill had presented a major obstacle.

Its delay had hindered the country’s economic and energy development and made it difficult for the province to attract other investors with stronger financial capacities and experience, he added. — VNS

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