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Azerbaijan Seeks High Tech Investors

Azerbaijan is known for its oil riches, but the Caucasus nation is also working to become a regional high tech center. Mike O'Sullivan reports from Los Angeles, an Azerbaijani official tells U.S. businesses the next boom in his country will be in information technology.

Oil exports have caused Azerbaijan's growth rate to rocket past 30 percent, but Azerbaijani officials know the oil will not last forever.

Ali Abbasov, the country's minister of communications and technology, was in Los Angeles to urge U.S. business leaders to invest in his country. He says Azerbaijan has been blessed with oil revenue, but needs to build a stable, sustainable economy.

"And the information and communications technologies have been chosen as a priority field of Azerbaijan's new economy," he said.

The theme of the government drive is converting black gold to human gold, that is, using oil wealth to build the skills and other assets that economists call "human capital." Elchin Aliyev, president of the information technology company SINAM in Azerbaijan, explains the concept.

"It means to spend money to build some infrastructure, to build high-speed networks, to bring computers to schools, to the education system, and to integrate to the world information society," he said.

Aliyev's company has partnered with leading U.S. technology firms, including Cisco and Hewlett-Packard, to build database systems for Azerbaijan's national bank, state pension fund, and other government institutions.

Bruce Hakimi of the U.S. company Cybernet provides telecom and internet services through a firm in Azerbaijan called Avir Tel. He says Azerbaijan is a good place to invest.

"It is a country that has an open economy, and that is important. Secondly, the growth potential is high. And third, it is a country that is an ally of the United States. And I think that it is important for us Americans to be able to help people who help us," he said.

Azerbaijan is still emerging from the planned economy of the Soviet era, but the nation's officials say its abundant energy resources will allow it to make the transition to a regional IT center for the 21st century.