Why An Idaho Engineer Is In Africa On A Federal Trade Mission

Jun 5, 2015

An Idaho engineer is on a federal trade mission in Africa right now, promoting U.S. companies and helping to bring electricity to people in Malawi and Tanzania. Hailey-based Power Engineers consults in a variety of engineering fields, including energy generation and delivery. Chris Garvin works out of the company's Meridian office, but he spoke to KBSX from Malawi this week. He says he’s no rookie when it comes to working in Africa.

“There are some really good opportunities here on the continent,” he says. “There are also some things you [have] got to know, and some pitfalls. If you go in thinking this is going to be like doing business in Idaho, Nevada, Utah, Washington…it might trip you up later on.”

Power Engineers works all over the world. That was one of the reasons it was chosen for this mission along with nine other U.S. companies. The Idaho business is the only one from the West.

The mission is sponsored by the U.S. Commerce Department and a federally-funded aid organization, the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC.) This is the first trade mission of its kind the MCC has embarked on since the organization was created by Congress 11 years ago.

“It will promote U.S. exports and expand U.S. companies' presence in Africa by introducing American firms to opportunities in the energy sector. The mission contributes to the goals of Power Africa, a whole of U.S. Government effort designed to double access to electricity in all of sub-Saharan Africa. Currently, more than two-thirds of the population of sub-Saharan Africa is without electricity, including more than 85 percent of those living in rural areas. The firms joining the mission have the expertise to help African countries develop and manage energy resources and systems, as well as build out power generation, transmission, and distribution infrastructure. In Tanzania and Malawi alone, companies can bid on more than $750 million in upcoming MCC-funded projects, along with parallel investments in the countries' energy sectors.” – MCC press release

For Chris Garvin, both the business and humanitarian aspects of the trip are important. He says Power Engineers sees Africa as a challenging but promising market. He also says bringing people electricity is “the right thing to do.”

“You’ve got the young girls who can’t study because there’s no light," Garvin says. "Bring the electric light and now they can study, they go to college, they go on, they’re a doctor. This brings benefits back to the community.”

Find Adam Cotterell on Twitter @cotterelladam

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