Carbondale firm plans expansion in Middle East
CARBONDALE – A Carbondale planning firm once deeply involved in plans to bring train service back to the valley may soon be sending consultants to the Middle East.Otak, an international design and planning consulting company with an office in Carbondale, last week announced it had made a “strategic hire” of project management specialist Haytham Haidar to be director of operations for the office in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates.What that means for the Carbondale office is not yet completely known, said Otak’s local manager, John McCarty.But, he said, “I would say it broadens our horizons a bit.”He said the five Otak staffers working in the Carbondale office have been informed they are welcome to put their names in for short-term assignments to the region. McCarty said no one has taken up the offer yet, although the entire office staff has shown interest.”The idea is to work on exciting projects,” he said.The company has offices in both Baghdad, Iraq, and Erbil, located in the northern Kurdish part of Iraq.”It’s pretty exciting stuff,” McCarty said.The company’s founder, president and CEO, Nawzat Othman, came to Carbondale and to the other satellite offices to discuss his plans for expansion in the Middle East. Othman is a native of Iraq who is now a U.S. citizen.”We have people going back and forth” between the U.S. and different parts of the Middle East, Othman confirmed this week. The company also is expanding into Qatar, he said.But, he said, there are no plans for U.S. staffers to work in the Iraqi offices, which are staffed entirely with Iraqi natives and were opened to put Iraqis back to work after the U.S. invasion and subsequent domestic turmoil.”There’s an awful lot of good stuff going on in Iraq” in addition to the insurgency and political strife, Othman said. He noted that there is “a tremendous amount of hope in Iraq. … We are not putting anyone in harm’s way. We’re patient. We’re not there for anything short term.”According to a company statement about the recent hiring, Haidar has 17 years’ experience “managing the financial aspects of public infrastructure and private development projects” throughout the region. His specialty reportedly has been in the development of airports in the U.S., Europe, Southeast Asia and Russia.Haidar’s role with Otak, according to the statement, is in “project management,” specifically to “help facilitate the firm’s expansion in the Middle East and cultivate business relationships throughout the region” and to “bolster the firm’s capabilities to effectively manage large public and private developments.”Otak, which is based in Oregon, has concentrated its efforts primarily on development projects around the U.S. in its nearly 25 years of business, working on transit, residential developments, city and regional planning efforts, and other projects.Otak’s first local project was to work on plans in the early 1990s to reintroduce train service, for commuters and tourists, to the Roaring Fork Valley.The rail initiative failed after years of controversy, but the right of way ultimately was purchased using public money and is now being used as a public trail. Rail backers in the valley continue to harbor hopes that a train will ultimately be built along the same right of way.
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