SAKHALIN, USSR — NICK NICHOSON first saw the island of Sakhalin from the belly of a B-29 bomber, while flying nighttime spy missions during the Korean War. He returned 37 years later to see Sakhalin from the ground, this time as an American entrepreneur looking for a new opportunity. The ebullient, 58-year-old native New Yorker emerged from a one-week visit with an agreement to form a joint company with Soviet business organizations. The plan: to develop Sakhalin's rich resources into products for export to nearby Japan and to the United States. Mr. Nichoson is the first American to strike a deal in this distant corner of the Soviet Union.
At first glance, Sakhalin hardly seems like the business bonanza of the century. In the days of the czars it served as a vast prison camp. Nineteenth-century Russian writer Anton Chekhov described it as a ``hell,'' albeit a frozen one.
But Nichoson is attracted by Sakhalin's rich natural resources - its abundant fish products, lumber, coal, oil, and gas - and by its northern beauty.
With investment in equipment and infrastructure, he sees money to be made in transforming these raw materials into export goods. He plans to begin by making health drinks from berries unique to the island and by processing seafood such as salmon and crab.
After more than 30 years of doing business in the Far East, Nichoson says he is ``tired of selling things in Tokyo.'' He and his Japanese wife started their own food-processing business, Asia Dynamics, about 20 years ago, together with his long-time Japanese partner, Hachiro Hosokawa, an ex-kamikaze pilot.
But he says he is motivated by more than business.
``There is a bit of the missionary in me,'' he says with a smile. With the encouragement of the Russians, he plans to start business-management training in Sakhalin.
Nichoson says he is prepared to spend more than half the year, for the next five to 10 years, in Sakhalin developing this venture.