By Bernd Debusmann Jr
Exclusive: Steven McCarthy, the CEO of the USA Pavilion's implementation partner, says he hopes US government funding can be secured for the country's showcase at Expo 2020 Dubai
US companies must move swiftly to confirm their participation with the US Pavilion at Expo 2020 Dubai and ensure the project is fully funded, according to Steven McCarthy, the chairman and CEO of Além International Management, a US-firm tapped by the State Department as the pavilion’s ‘implementation partner’.
In an exclusive interview with Arabian Business, McCarthy says that, to date, no construction work has been carried out on the American Pavilion at the Expo site.
“It’s possible to get this done still. We’d originally hoped we’d get a shovel in the ground about now, but we need to make sure this is going to be fully-funded before we do that,” he says.
To secure funding, Além has reached out to US companies, corporations, universities and private individuals.
“Corporations were our first target,” he says. “We felt they would be the ones that would come to the table with the amount of money needed to build the pavilion and build programming into it, run it, manage it, and take it down at the end of the Expo.”
Another important source of funding, McCarthy adds, would be foundations such as the Gates Foundation and the Buffet Foundation.
“[Foundations] wouldn’t have such a high expectation of commercial ROI (return on investment), but would have an abiding interest in a continuing relationship with the UAE and GCC in general,” he says.
McCarthy adds that “time is of the essence” for US companies to step forward and commit to participating, adding that there is an increasing sense of urgency.
“There is [a sense of urgency], not only because of funding, but because of the development of programming a company, individual or partner might want to have. A lot of companies might have discretionary funding available for something like this.
“Most US-based companies might have discretionary funding available for something like this,” McCarthy adds. “We’re trying to find those companies that have some flexibility in their spending and still see a long-term interest to participate in this as a partner or sponsor.”
“If the US government isn’t able to come to the table with funding, it makes it more of a challenge. We’re trying to get everything to get it done”
However, McCarthy says he is confident that businesses will see the benefits of Expo 2020 Dubai participation, including global exposure to the public and new markets and recognition in USA Pavilion’s digital and print materials.
“I’m not panicked about it,” he admits. “We’ve just got to be very selective about who can mobilise not just the money, but the content and programming for their own marketing potential.”
Currently, the US State Department and other government entities are legally prohibited from providing funding for capital expenditures or operational expenses associated with US pavilions or exhibits at world expos.
The White House and US Pavilion organisers, however, have requested that the US lawmakers waive those regulations and provide emergency funding for the 2020 event.
“In the short-term, if they can waive it (the regulations), it will allow the State Department to go in and solicit funding. The second part of the approach is to get some emergency funding appropriation so they can get this project rolling,” McCarthy says.
“They went back multiple times to Congress, starting first with the House [of Representatives] and then going over to the Senate,” he adds. “They chucked the funding component and sent it on to the White House. We’re hoping they’ll take it back to the House to fund the seed part of this so that we can get a shovel in the ground and start going.”
Additionally, McCarthy says that he believes that the US is at a “comparative disadvantage, perhaps” at Expo, where many country pavilions are state-funded.
“But that’s where America really shines and can pull together all kinds of disparate parts. There’s ways to do that,” he says. “Obviously, it’s better if we can create a partnership between the public and private sector. If the US government isn’t able to come to the table with funding, it makes it more of a challenge. We’re trying to get everything to get it done, from whatever source.”
Once the funding is secured, McCarthy says that he and the pavilion team are confident the site could be built in nine months.
“That would leave time for a beta test of all the systems and management team and staff,” he adds.