September 26th, 2011
04:34 AM GMT
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Phnom Penh, Cambodia (CNN) – The most common image of Cambodia is the land of ancient temples and budget travelers. There's now something else putting Cambodia on the map: foreign investors.

Cambodia's devastating recent history set the country back a generation. From 1975-78, the Communist Khmer Rouge killed intellectuals, destroyed the education system and pushed for an agrarian society that required families to be uprooted and separated.

By the end of the terror, between 1.7 million to 3 million Cambodians are estimated to have died at the hands of the Khmer Rouge. The Vietnamese occupation that followed and civil war between a weakened Khmer Rouge and the Cambodian government also stripped the country of stability for another two decades.

Today the country is politically stable with a democracy that's a constitutional monarchy. The children who survived the Khmer Rouge era are now parents. Half the country is now under the age of 25. Every year, a quarter million young Cambodians enter the job market and the government needs to create jobs for them, says Stephen Higgins, CEO of ANZ Cambodia.

"The Cambodian government is remarkably pro-business particularly coming from a Communist background. Any sector you can own 100%. There are banks here that are 100% foreign owned. Most manufacturing is 100% owned by foreigners."

Cambodia is one of the poorest countries in Asia with more than 80% of the population living in rural areas. Labor is cheap in Cambodia - cheaper than China, Vietnam or Thailand. Minimum wage is $61/month.

"My success story is labor. My labor force is very young. If there's a manual skill set or artistic aptitude I need, these folks are good at it. And I'm paying one-third of the cost of my Chinese counterparts," says Scott Huff, owner of Innovate International which makes a niche pet treat in Cambodia for the U.S. and European markets.

Brad Holes is an American who set up a stuffed animal factory in Phnom Penh. His company, "First & Main." employs 350 Cambodian workers and is already looking to expand into a bigger factory.

As one of three American manufacturers currently in Cambodia, Holes says he feels like a pioneer who has to roll with the challenges that arise in a developing country. For example, getting financing in Cambodia is not easy.

"I've talked to the major banks about credit lines. It's just not available," says Holes. "So we have to rely on private equity money and other funding – like my own personal funding or trade finance."

The road to success in Cambodia is filled with potholes that mirror some of the infrastructure. Power outages occur about once a week because power plants are isolated in various provinces and there's no national power grid. The cost of power is more expensive in Cambodia compared to other countries in the region.

After several years of delays, the Cambodian Stock Exchange opened this July, but there are no companies trading yet. The stock exchange says it plans to list its first two companies by the end of this year. They are state-owned enterprises, Phnom Penh Water Supply Authority and Telecom Cambodia.

No private company has come forward to list yet. Part of the problem is securities rules require three years of audited financial statements by one of three global accounting firms designated by the Cambodian Stock Exchange.

"When I look at our large local companies, I can't think of a single one that has audited financial statements at the moment," says Higgins.

Still, Cambodia holds appeal for the pioneer investor who wants to get in first and has the patience to ride out the bumps in the road.

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Filed under: Outlook Cambodia

soundoff (39 Responses)
  1. Peuv

    This report is a one-sided story. Cambodia is ruled by dictator Hun Sen who now has no challenge since he controls the Court, the Police, the Army, and the Parliament. Hun Sen is no different from Moammar Gadhafi who was just overthrown by the power of the heroic Libyans. Hun Sen is the Prime Miniser. His son controls the army. Khmers should follow the example of the Libyan people to set their country free from dictatorship under Hun Sen. Why no major Western corporations dare set foot in Cambodia? They are scared of Cambodia that has no business laws. Brad Holes is right. No banks dare lend you the money because, in case of loan default, they cannot take you to court that is controlled by Hun Sen. No bank dare take Hun Sen or his cronies to court. Those who pioneer are daring risk takers. Whey most risk takers are Chinese? They are familiar with the rules. Some of them are seen come in and get out quickly without even paying their Khmer employees who are left sitting outside of factories crying for pay. That is common. Under Hun Sen, Cambodia will never be a good place for major Western investors who require law and order for conducting their business. What a sad regime!

    September 26, 2011 at 5:45 am |


    I agree with you as far as Hun Sen's a dictator but some of your statments are over the top and are untrue. We need as many foriegn investors as we can and we need to start our oil production asap to generate revenue. The country is going in the right path but one the biggest issues in Cambodia is land grabing and we should put the responsiblity on the government and the developers to resolve that.

    September 26, 2011 at 6:19 am |
  3. John Fulton

    I think that the government of Cambodia is leading toward the right direction. Peuv may belong to an opposition party and is very pessimistic and has a narrow-minded perception about Cambodia and its leaders. The reality is always real while the truth is always true.

    September 26, 2011 at 7:21 am |
  4. xybr

    Cambodia is one of the poorest in asia, but also one of the richest if this country will be develop in the near future.

    September 26, 2011 at 7:26 am |
  5. Lee

    No major western corporations??? Very narrow minded view. I am the 1990s boy, but I see my country in a very positive way though I understand the challenges we are having. We need to appreciate what we achieved and think of ways to amend what went wrong.

    If u think Cambodia is under dictatorship, what about Singapore? And look at Singapore how far it achieved???

    September 26, 2011 at 7:55 am |
  6. Sara Oum

    Thanks to CNN reporter for your good artical that concerning about cambodia. As we knew that all of this problem is because of the dictator Hun Sen and henchman they have been corrupting in Cambodia. And my country became to a rag store of the international aid since 1993.

    According to my oppinion I think you put a wrong photo of Khmer buddhish monk. And and I think above photos is Thai buddhis monk. it really not Khmer monk.

    September 26, 2011 at 7:57 am |
  7. John Galt

    Raw material import tariffs are high there. And Cambodia doesn't have any significant raw materials inside the country.... Not a great place to be for business. I've been there and looked at it.

    All the government leaders are rich driving around Lexus SUVs and the poor are dirt poor. The rich have no incentive to make it right for business if the NGO's continue to pour money into their pockets.

    I agree with previous post... the boys look Thai in the photo.... that is my opinion .... and I lived in Thailand for 9 years. I'm in China now where they do have raw materials.

    September 26, 2011 at 8:12 am |
  8. John Fulton

    In nowday Cambodia, the riches help the needy poors under the Culture of Sharing. We have to look at the whole forest rather than an individual tree. Some of you may be the members of the anti-government group but you have to accept the fact that Cambodia is being lead to the right direction in term of social, political, and economical developments.

    September 26, 2011 at 11:24 am |
  9. desert voice (troubledgoodangel or Nathanael)

    I have not been to Cambodia, but I know the world. The world today changes fast. The dictators fall, the rich get poor. I would strengthen the resolve to see the opportunities, but to get "protected", somehow. There is a need of innovative dealing with each country on individual basis. There is probably need to explore and develop mineral resources. Cambodians, given their history, would make good peacemakers. Why not recruit blue caskets among the young people? And how about developing the fishing fleet? A shipyard seems the right choice.

    September 26, 2011 at 11:34 am |
  10. Jeff

    In my opinion, a ridiculous and disrespectful article with very little context. Sure, Cambodia has a stable democratic government – insofar as you don't dare criticize CPP policies or people. I can't help but think of Sam Rainsey or Mu Sochua, both from the opposition party, who have faced jail sentences for speaking out – Rainsey himself, the leader of the party is living in Australia! I also can't help but think of the "young" workforce Huff mentions – Take a drive on the outskirts of Phnom Penh anytime after 5pm and you'll see this "young" workforce, loaded on flat-bed trucks like cattle, headed for home in a nearby slum.

    With a prevailing understanding of Cambodia like those presented in this article, it won't be long before more Americans are in Cambodia getting rich. And they will be getting rich off the backs of Cambodia's poor!

    September 26, 2011 at 11:54 am |
  11. John Fulton

    I do not understand why the abroad Cambodian opposition members are always against the foreign businessmen to invest in Cambodia. The investors will create many jobs for our Cambodian youngsters. The opposition members have nothing to do besides to curse the Cambodian leaders and destroy the development of Cambodia, They become redical and strange for no reason.

    September 26, 2011 at 1:36 pm |
  12. Rudolf Eduard Knuchel

    I have been living, working and investing in Cambodia for the last 21 years. Mr. Peuv, I assume you are part of the Khmer Diaspora who has failed to return and help to build a new Cambodia on the lines you believe it should be done. You are welcome to try to do better as for my part in the meantime I am very happy and admire the Khmer's how on their own they have advance the country in the past 21 years from nothing to a functional Democracy a fact, that countries such as Iraq, Afghanistan, Somalia, Palestine, Haiti with heavy interference from the US and the West where not able to achieve.

    September 26, 2011 at 3:48 pm |
  13. Hab

    writer or editor should have been very careful when placing picture to the article. the picture is Thai, but yoy are writing about Cambodia and interview those who live n work in Cambodia. I think you never come to Cambodia.
    Please check out.
    Anyway, overally the article is good. the world should have been seen in all sides, not one side.

    September 26, 2011 at 4:51 pm |
  14. thearith

    i totally disagree with peuv, sorry if you are not cambodia or over state your word, i am argue with hun sen dicta or not but please dont make cambodia to war agian , i love peace , people in cambodia love peace and hate war, we had enough war. cambodia is not Libyan. have are happy with our country now. do you want to bring cambodia to war agian, please get way with my country , please ask people with voting right . if you live in usa you are safe yes, do not let us to war

    September 26, 2011 at 5:14 pm |
  15. thearith

    thanks guy for comment at my country , as you know our country have a long history of civil war, it is a fact. now a day we at standing in this position i am happy enough. i dont wat to be opposite or position side but please try to be fair to both part. and some comment or samrangsy it is not the right time to do in his case for cambodia ( why) country have conflict with thai and he bring other problem come ( vietnam border) .and i am not commment with whether it is true or not.

    September 26, 2011 at 5:24 pm |
  16. thearith

    corruption is a hot topic for country all over the world just the matter how strong it is am i right . can it be solve over night. the answer is no. the thing is how welling the government want to do. if they dont want to change than people will not vote for them

    September 26, 2011 at 5:27 pm |
  17. thearith

    corruption is a hot topic for country all over the world just the matter how strong it is am i right . can it be solve over night. the answer is no. the thing is how welling the government want to do.

    September 26, 2011 at 5:28 pm |
  18. Than

    The picture is questionable (Thai or Khmer), the article is good though.

    We should start with optimism so that we can move forward. I agree that Hun Sen's leadership is often personalized and not so good but I still think his pro-business policies are excellent. He's still nationalistic. You want foreigners to come and topple him, be your way coz this is Khmers who often ask outsiders for help with internal disagreement. I understand that seeing situations in Cambodia everyday sometimes it's frustrating, but we've to be more rational and not yo make it into a new extreme.

    Once the develop along with gradual increase of middle class groups and better educated people, the gov't has no choice but to better improve the performance and taking care of the citizens. More informed and better-off people will expect more from the gov't. Don't ask me when coz I don't know but what I know is economic development must be prioritized in order that we can reach there. THAN.

    September 26, 2011 at 5:47 pm |
  19. tyrong

    ye the cambodia people are coward they not united,just like thearith said no war. how can you accomplish anything without sacrifice? take arab people for example they are martyr, they united .they willing to die for freedom, for the next generation. so what i,m saying you know rise claim what is your, let him who stole, no free or die die!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    September 27, 2011 at 11:29 am |
  20. Mimi

    Please change the picture, or I will sue you Pauline Chiou!

    September 28, 2011 at 4:05 pm |
  21. teng rithy

    yes , good opportunity for investor to doing business in Cambodia.

    September 30, 2011 at 3:24 am |
  22. pretty girl

    hun sen is bad leader in the world ,the same sadam hussein too

    October 2, 2011 at 4:04 pm |
  23. MC

    To: John Fulton and Rudolf Eduard Knuchel
    I do agree with both of you 1000 percent of your positive thinking about Cambodia Political, Economic, and policy. If I am not mistaken you both are not a Cambodian, Am I right? But you have such a very positive ideas about Cambodia I am so proud of you all. Yes, Cambodia is going in the right direction now but it is just little to slow because the Government do not empassize enought about the education for the Cambodian poor if they do the Country probably is more rapid developing than now I believe. For those who just say or write a critism without thought or read about Cambodian you need to do more homework or research before posting a nonsense comment. You all should be proud of these two gentlement who tried to pursuade you to believe that Cambodia now is in the positive direction building the foundation for the democracy for the People of Cambodia. It will take sometimes to strenghten this foundation. Just look at United States of American how long does it take to be the Father of the Democracy and US is still learning and changing the Foundation of Democracy for more than 200 years compare to Cambodian we are less than 50 years. So we are a long way to go. Let we are all getting up and joined hand to hand to build a new Cambodian and proude of you work. Come on and join in!!!

    Write me at

    October 3, 2011 at 7:21 pm |
  24. Piseth (Chav Ta)

    Should be change this picture because i don't believe it in Cambodia, cos my country has many amazing photo and wonder story as i known..........................! You read you know, You see u wondering, You visit you will understand!

    October 15, 2011 at 9:00 am |
  25. Sam

    I agree with MC, John Fulton and Rudolf Eduard Knuchel. Cambodians need to joint hand in hand and think positively. We do not want WAR we love peace. Please do not stir up if you don’t have good view about Cambodia. I am not any party side but I love Peace. Look at Pol Pot he also died and few people that are currently on trial will soon die. No one live for eternity!!! But human like to have power that why the world have war.

    October 19, 2011 at 4:45 am |
  26. VC

    Change does not always lead to better events. Adjustments can. I feel that having the access to the information and events around the world is a positive beginning for the Cambodians in Cambodia. I believe that developing a culture with dignity, integrity, justice and education is very important for the Cambodians because I don't think we've had this kind of culture in our recent Cambodian history. I feel that there are many Cambodians living abroad that would love an opportunity to be part of a development on the land where they or their ancestors were born on. I would.

    October 28, 2011 at 1:15 am |
  27. Tinald

    I support the topic above. It's true that Cambodia is growing under the control of government Hun Sen. Still, I have a doubt what will happen when Hun Sen pass away. Will Cambodia continue its growing or face with chaotic? I hope that power will transfer peacefully to new generation.

    November 7, 2011 at 10:46 am |
  28. Giga Eng

    CNN's brought this topic at the right time. Cambodia is leading toward the right direction. But there are many things that needed to improve. I suggest you guy to read a book enttiled "the return of the kingdom of Cambodia towards the age of globalization". It's about modern history of Cambodia. You can find some interesting issues like economy, trade, WTO, garment, stock exchange, banking, etc. I found this book interesting becasue it highlights both negative, positive and solution. Guy, negative criticism does not help at all. But constructive criticiam does! And for the better future of this poor nation.

    November 8, 2011 at 5:03 am |
  29. Singaporean

    Well corruption is business and it all depend on the person if he/ she wants to write it on the paper.
    I've live in china and do my business there so when i came here it feels the same like china. the way the people think and work is the same like the chinese when they 1st open the market in 2000 year to the world.
    The only think i must said to the fellow young cambodian please take an effort to learn and not be lazy. I believe in the next coming 5 years, Cambodia or rather Phnom Penh will be a better place for business and a the world will start coming in to invest more. For now plant your seeds and groom it. You will be a happy man when it start to harvest.
    Be positive.

    December 16, 2011 at 4:57 am |
  30. Ayhan

    I agree with you all that the acritle is rubbish for a host of reasons, but reading the blog and comments have inspired me to think critically about the phenomenon of food journalism' and the fact that, other that, other than Steingarten, I honestly can't think of another single writer who writes about food in a truly interesting, engaging and entertaining way. Am I simply not well read and stand ignorant of the dozens of other talented people out there writing about food, or does this say something about food writing itself?I have a feeling it might be the latter, and that food writing, more than any other genre, seems to give writers the liberty to manhandle the topic while neglecting the way its presented a lot like the acritle in question. (Could another writer get away with a story about, say, driving several of the world's craziest' cars, or living in the world's biggest houses? Well, yes, probably ). Regardless, when was the last time you read something written specifically about food and thought, That was extremely well written and fun to read'?What are some examples of good' food writing?

    February 29, 2012 at 4:45 am |
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  34. Jaleesa Rooks

    Textiles commonly used include plain cloth and pile textiles like plush or terrycloth. Common stuffing materials are synthetic fiber batting, cotton, straw, wood wool, plastic pellets or beans. Stuffed toys are made in many different forms, often resembling animals, legendary creatures, cartoon characters or inanimate objects. They are often used as comfort objects, for display or collecting and given as gifts, such as for graduation, Valentine's Day or birthdays.*

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  36. Ra Chheang

    Cambodia never be reach cause of leaders and bad memorized, the second cause if neighbor.

    August 25, 2013 at 7:37 am |
  37. goood

    thanks verys

    September 9, 2013 at 12:37 am |
  38. samuel

    Once the develop along with gradual increase of middle class groups and better educated people, the gov't has no choice but to better improve the performance and taking care of the citizens. More informed and better-off people will expect more from the gov't. Don't ask me when coz I don't know but what I know is economic development must be prioritized in order that we can reach there. THAN.

    October 7, 2013 at 10:54 pm |
  39. tami

    The Vietnamese occupation that followed and civil war between a weakened Khmer Rouge and the Cambodian government also stripped the country of stability for another two decades.

    October 10, 2013 at 8:30 pm |

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