During the last week of March, MCC Board member Alan Patricof and I visited Georgia to mark the completion of the 5-year Georgia Compact, which officially completes on April 7th.
After three days of travelling throughout Georgia to see the work financed by MCC and meet with farmers, entrepreneurs, NGOs and religious leaders, and our government counterparts, I have no doubt that the Georgia compact will be remembered for its remarkable achievements, and for how it has demonstrated that the United States and Georgia are not only strong allies, but good business partners.
On our first day in country we drove for several hours down the newly rehabilitated Samtskhe-Javakheti road that links the previously isolated southern part of the country to the rest of Georgia. This investment opens up trade with Armenia and Turkey, and offers the prospect of revitalizing an area that was ignored during the Soviet era. We stopped at a new grocery shop that recently opened along the road. I hope it is a portent of the business development that will spring up along this strategic route.
We also visited the ancient Jvari monastery and the cathedral at Mtskheta, marvelous legacies of Western civilization from Georgia’s medieval past. As we travelled the road, crumbling fortresses crowned the peaks of mountains – harkening back to the time when the famed Silk Road passed through Georgia. I thought of President Saakashvili’s comment that “Georgia is not just a European country, but one of the most ancient European countries,” and of the country’s development strategy to revive its role as a crossroads between Asia and Europe.
Our second day was spent in the Kakheti region, where MCC financed dozens of small projects as part of an activity designed to develop the country’s huge agricultural and agribusiness potential. It is a point of great satisfaction that MCC financing helped 280 agribusinesses expand, resulting in the creation of over 2,800 jobs. At the 6th-century Alaverdi monastery, nestled on a rich plain at the foot of the soaring Caucasus Mountains, we saw a modern wine-making operation using traditional methods, and sampled the fruits of their honey-making and horticulture enterprises. It was impossible not to think of the tremendous potential for tourism in this scenic and historic setting. Before long I bet we’ll hear about people traveling to Georgia for tours of its historic wine country. When they do, they will have the pleasure of discovering the warmth and hospitality of the Georgian people.
We concluded a very productive visit with a well-attended public ceremony in Tbilisi to officially close the compact. With a great sense of satisfaction, we were able to toast a U.S.-Georgian partnership that has built essential infrastructure and created new opportunities that are generating jobs and raising incomes.