ATLANTA -- President Gnassingbe Eyadema of Togo threw a party here last month, but hardly anybody came.
He was hoping to persuade Atlanta business leaders to invest in his tiny West African nation. Unfortunately, for him, he wasn't alone. The city was sated with foreign visitors, many of them also seeking investment funds. As a result, none of Atlanta's top business leaders showed up for the luncheon that Eyadema held at Atlanta's downtown Ritz-Carlton Hotel.
With half the tables empty, Eyadema also skipped the lunch.
A delegation of bankers from Cordoba, Spain, and trade groups from Austria and Sweden had come through recently. So had the prime minister of Benin, Togo's next-door neighbor, who also was looking for companies to invest in his country. Peru's newly elected president, Alberto Fujimori, stopped in on his way back from Japan, where he had sought a $1.8 billion loan. The prime minister of Japan, Toshiki Kaifu, whose companies have invested heavily in Georgia, visited on his way home from the Houston summit in June.
National leaders who travel the world in their gleaming jets seeking investment funds have become modern-day Willy Lomans, salesmen peddling their countries as safe and profitable places for investment. Each offers a special pitch to business executives, but nearly all discover U.S. pockets are not as deep as they had hoped.
"My God. We're being approached by such countries as Laos and Mongolia that are interested in U.S. investment," said James D. Berg, executive vice president of the Overseas Private Investment Corp. (OPIC), a government agency that helps American companies invest in Third World countries.
"The competition for investment capital -- particularly the kind we support, which has a strong development component -- is greater now than at any time since World War II. And it's global."
Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev was one of the earliest pitchmen, telling business leaders in Minneapolis and San Francisco last June to invest early in the Soviet Union or they would miss out on the best opportunities. His political ally, Nursultan A. Nazarbaev, president of the Soviet Republic of Kazakhstan, followed in July, also seeking investment and stressing the government's attempts to move from communism to a market-based economic system.
Even before that, Polish Solidarity union leader Lech Walesa drew long applause from Congress and the AFL-CIO nearly a year ago after making an impassioned plea for greater U.S. investment in Poland.
Since then, scores of leaders have toured the United States seeking investment funds, and just as many have gone to Japan and the wealthy countries of Western Europe.
The presidents-elect of Brazil and Colombia -- Fernando Collor de Mello and Cesar Gaviria -- came to the United States to tout their new free-market economic programs and to seek investment funds.
Promising stability within a multiparty system, Senegal President Abdou Diouf asked American companies to invest in his country. A senior official from Nigeria did the same, telling executives in Houston that his government welcomes foreign investment.
"There is the greatest competition in the last 45 years for financial capital," said William T. Archey, international vice president of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which receives a foreign delegation every eight to 10 days seeking investments by American companies.
Like Eyadema, nearly all the foreign leaders who come to the United States are learning how tough the national competition is for investment funds. Cheap labor is no longer enough to induce American manufacturers to locate abroad, noted Archey.
"There has to be a friendlier atmosphere for foreign investment," Archey said.
Recognizing this, governments are reconsidering policies that have been mainstays of Third World economic thinking for decades, such as restrictions on repatriating profits, requirements that products be made for export only and limitations on hiring and firing workers.
Eyadema made a valiant try during his early August trip to the United States, traveling to Washington, Atlanta, Houston and Columbus, Ohio (the state actually maintains a small office in Africa and even recently moved one of its two staffers to Togo's capital of Lom'e).
American planners said Eyadema drew a good turnout of business executives during his Houston visit, which included meetings with officials of Compaq Computer Corp.
Speaking to business leaders, Eyadema emphasized his country's political and social stability -- the former French foreign legionnaire has ruled the country with an iron fist since taking over in a coup 23 years ago.
He also stressed an "export processing zone" that will allow companies to take advantage of low wages in Togo to produce goods for sale in neighboring African nations as well as Western Europe.
In return for these benefits, Togo gains job opportunities for its army of unemployed citizens.
OPIC's Berg said that Togo is further along than neighboring countries in enacting laws and regulations that are attractive to foreign investors, including tax "holidays" for the companies and the expatriate executives who run them.
"We have been touring the world -- the United States, Japan, Canada -- everywhere in the world where we could get support," said Eyadema during an interview at Blair House while he was visiting in Washington.
"We know there is international competition," said Industries Minister Koffi Gbondjide Djondo.
"This is why we have provided many incentives for people to come to our free zone. We are not afraid of competition. Clearly our country can stand up to competition."