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Iraqi Ph.D. Student and Norfolk Brewery Partner on Middle East Export Project

By Jon Cawley

A state grant is helping an Iraqi student studying for a Ph.D. at Old Dominion University assist the Bold Mariner Brewing Company to enter the export market of the United Arab Emirates and other Middle Eastern countries with a growing demand for American craft beers.

The $5,000 grant was presented by the Virginia International Trade Alliance (VITAL), which is part of the Virginia Economic Development Partnership, and is intended to promote trade through Virginia's ports. Member companies are connected with funding and resources to participate in international trade missions and tailored global market research with the intention to increase international sales.

"The VITAL program is a wonderful opportunity to build real world business and marketing acumen in Old Dominion's student researchers while lifting Hampton Roads economically," said Paul Olsen, director of programs and partnerships for the University's Office of Research.

That's where Aras Syahmanssuri comes in.

The native of Kurdistan, a semi-autonomous region in northern Iraq, came to the United States in 2014 on a scholarship provided by the Iraqi government to work on a Ph.D. in International Studies.

Now he is using his knowledge of the region and language to assist Michael Stacks, of Bold Mariner, and an active duty Navy service member, take his Norfolk business international with a sustainable export plan.

"Working with Aras, Jordan and Paul has been a pleasure," Stacks said. "We are very excited at the prospects of exporting our beer. It would definitely be a big move for our business."

Syahmanssuri said the demand for craft beer has increased recently in the Middle East, and the United Arab of Emirates (UAE) market particularly, His research indicates the Middle East has potential as a destination for Bold Mariner beers because the UAE, in addition to domestic consumption, is a re-exporting market to neighboring countries including Iraq, Egypt, Lebanon and Jordan.

"Life styles have changed recently in the Arab world, including the UAE, and people are looking for better brands and products," Syahmanssuri said, adding that the market has an added benefit for foreign exporters: it's generally too expensive to produce alcohol locally and turn a profit so most is imported.

Syahmanssuri said, besides private consumption, the UAE has about 1,500 restaurants, nightclubs and hotels that serve alcohol, and that market is currently supplied by six to seven large companies.

"It's ideal to export from a foreign market," he said. "I think it will be profitable. We have to find the right way to establish a connection with them. This is something we can do."

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