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Soros Offers to Set Up Company in Bulgaria to Tackle 2000 Bug

Technology: Financier would invest $3 million for venture in which cheap talent would be utilized.

July 01, 1998|From Reuters

SOFIA, Bulgaria — International financier and philanthropist George Soros has offered to set up a joint software company in Bulgaria employing cheap local talent to work on the millennium bug, a top official said Tuesday.

"The proposal envisages setting up a joint venture between the Bulgarian Telecommunications Co. and Soros, which will carry out orders for large foreign companies in the West," BTC board Chairman Grosdan Karadzhov said.

"Mr. Soros is prepared to invest about $3 million to set up a plant in Sofia which will develop software products urgently needed in the West, like the year 2000 problem and euro currency conversion projects," Karadzhov said.

Bulgaria, with a population of just over 8 million, is known for abundant computer programming talent despite a "brain drain" to the West caused by a shortage of funds and lack of access to new technologies.

Once a center for research and development in computer hardware and software for the former Soviet empire, the Balkan country has about 7,000 experienced software professionals.

Earlier this year, the National Laboratory of Computer Virology with the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences said it had found a way of dealing with the millennium bug, which could cripple computers and cause havoc at the turn of the century.

The millennium bug is a result of computer programmers truncating a year to the last two digits to save what was once expensive memory space. However, computers assuming a "19" before every two-digit year will make errors once the new century arrives.

The head of the laboratory has said the cure was found during work to find ways of countering computer viruses, many of which originated in Bulgaria.

Karadzhov said the project will be discussed by the BTC board soon. It would give BTC 15% in the joint venture, called Rila Software, which is to employ about 500 local software experts.

Karadzhov said one of Soros' reasons for setting up the plant in Bulgaria was expertise and cheap labor.

Programming salaries in Bulgaria are about one-fifth of those in the West, according to Western media.

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