Infrastructure weaknesses in Eastern European countries could actually end up being one of the region's greatest advantages, according to one executive with responsibilities in the region.
Peter Davies, regional director for DHL Worldwide Express, said Eastern European nations that need to catch up in telecommunications, computers and other business areas may actually be able to leapfrog technological generations.''Where they're really going to gain an advantage is because they're so far behind Western standards, they can go a quantum leap forward and not go through the slow, gradual upgrades,'' he said.
This may allow them to retool and eventually surge ahead, as German and Japanese heavy industry did after World War II.
Mr. Davies, who is responsible for Eastern and Central Europe, including the Commonwealth of Independent States, said DHL and many of its customers are investing in Eastern European operations with advanced computer and communications systems.
He said while many Western companies are still reluctant to invest in Eastern Europe, there is a growing comfort level, even given the health problems of Russian President Boris Yeltsin.
''Had this (his heart problems) happened a year ago, we would have been very nervous,'' Mr. Davies said.
But he added that Russia's strong electoral showing against the Communists and its stable prime minister should provide needed stability, he said. ''There's always a risk in that kind of country, be we think it's minimal at this point.''
Even the war-torn nations of former Yugoslavia are coming along, he said. While business activity has been sharply curtailed by the civil war, new infrastructure and repair projects should improve the economy, he said. And those areas not hit as hard by fighting are in position to prosper faster.
''Slovenia and Croatia are very well developed,'' he said. ''Clearly, Serbia is behind because of the sanctions, and Bosnia has been hit very hard. But Belgrade is still a very sophisticated city.''
DHL has tried to stay in business in many troubled regions of the world, including Iraq and Iran. But it had to pull out of Bosnia during the worst of the fighting there.
The efforts to resume operations are helped by the use of satellite communications. But he said that there's been a substantial improvement in a ground network of telecommunications in recent months.