Following the publication of an OECD report last week about the Negev’s potential as an international cleantech hub, Negev and Galilee Development Minister Silvan Shalom along with numerous mayors in the region are now calling for the study’s adoption by the government.

The report, titled “Clean-Tech Clustering as an Engine for Local Development: The Negev Region,” was officially presented to Israel on June 5 and was researched and written by a team from the OECD’s Local Economic and Employment Development Program (LEED) – led by Jonathan Potter, of the OECD Center for Entrepreneurship, SMEs and Local Development.

All of the report’s research was performed in cooperation with the Industry, Trade and Labor Ministry’s Regional Development Center, based on data, literature and policy documents on cleantech and regional development in Israel.

“The Negev’s potential is there to be exploited and expanded,” said OECD Secretary-General Angel Gurría, during his presentation of the report to Industry, Trade and Labor Minister Shalom Simhon, according to Gurría’s office. “A cleantech cluster offers a triple dividend not only for the Negev, but also for the rest of Israel, which will gain from both economic development and the strengthening of the wider Israeli cleantech industry.”

These three dividends, according to the secretary-general, include promoting green growth through more efficient use of natural resources and cleantech opportunities, advancing regional development in the Negev and enhancing social inclusion by providing skill opportunities for disadvantaged populations, such as the Negev Beduin.

“Our main message is that Israel should take concerted action to fill a number of remaining gaps,” Gurría said.

“This requires both investments in key areas and making the right connections with other cleantech clusters nationally and internationally.”

The report concludes that there is “good potential to grow cleantech activity in the Negev, as part of a wider Israeli cleantech cluster.”

Pinpointing the Negev as a stronghold for research, labor, facilities and natural resources, the report specifically says that the region can strengthen Israeli cleantech in the two niche areas of renewable energy and water management technologies. The region provides a home for 50 cleantech businesses, several technological incubators, university research departments and about one-third of the country’s cleantech research capacity, the authors note.

While the Negev has shown tremendous growth in the sector already and also displays great potential for future development, there are still many gaps to fill, according to the report. In particular, these include support services like investment finance and specialized consultancy, as well as a limited supply of high-skilled labor in the region. Likewise, while many government authorities are involved in supporting cleantech growth for the Negev, there is no single body coordinating these efforts.

Relying on lessons from other international cleantech clusters, the report recommends that the Israeli government create incentives for joint innovation projects, meeting spaces and a heightened visibility of cleantech development in the Negev to investors and partners.

As far as businesses go, one priority would be to connect local actors, in local supply opportunities such as retrofitting military bases and communities with energy efficient systems. An investment fund should also provide capital for start-up projects in the area, the report says.

In research, the government should work toward strengthening existing research activities while helping to create collaborations among institutions and commercializing the knowledge generated in the region.

To attract more highly skilled human capital, the government should work on heightening the visibility of the region’s cleantech research institutions, helping facilitate such opportunities as a Green MBA or student cleantech internships, according to the report.

In order to achieve these recommendations, the report provides a six-pillar strategy to develop cleantech clusters in the Negev: targeted investments in research centers; creation of a cleantech technology validation center; promotion of collaborative innovation projects; a green strategy for the Negev underpinned by green public procurement and regulation; the transformation of Eilat into a model “green city” for Israel; and the establishment of a regional cluster management organization.

“This OECD Report offers a vision for the Negev region that has the potential to deliver real and tangible benefits for regional development, green growth and social inclusion,” Gurría said. “This in turn offers wider benefits for Israel as a whole.

“I encourage the government to adapt the existing investments and policy instruments available for regional and cleantech development to achieve this vision and deliver stronger, fairer and cleaner growth,” he added.

Simhon and the local mayors have joined together to call upon the government to do just that, stressing that the Negev can and should become an international center for cleantech industry development.

“The Negev is in a moment of unprecedented development, and there is no doubt that the field of cleantech can bring it an additional leap forward,” Simhon said. “The Negev is blessed with natural resources like sun and open spaces. The combination of these resources, quality and creative human capital – in which the State of Israel is outstanding – can transform the Negev into the ultimate place for the development of this field.”

The cleantech industry will attract those in research and development and will further diversify the Negev’s employment spectrum, according to Simhon.

Beersheba Mayor Rubik Danilovich added that the report confirms an assumption that was already known to Negev residents.

“The implementation of the plan will create 10,000 high quality jobs and will attract a strong population to the area,” Danilovich said. “We received from the OECD a huge gift in the form of a detailed plan – we must ensure that the government invests resources and encourages entrepreneurs from the field to come to the region.”

Eilat Mayor Meir Yitzhak- Halevy praised the OECD’s suggestion that Israel “transform Eilat into a model ‘green city.’ To establish the Negev as a cleantech center, Yitzhak-Halevy proposed creating a professional work team headed by Simhon and involving government officials, environmental organization representatives and industrialists.

Dimona Mayor Meir Cohen said the Negev is already becoming a “platform” for advancing cleantech industry.

“In recent years, Negev leaders have proven their connection to the green energy field and strengthening the environment in practice,” Cohen said.

“The environmental revolution in Dimona is only one part of it.

Strengthening the cleantech industry in the Negev while integrating with existing industrial factories in the region is a winning combination.”

Ramat Hovav Council head Andrey Uzan said there is no reason why the government should not make Ramat Hovav Industrial Park into the country’s largest cleantech arena.

“I’m glad that the Europeans discovered what we already knew a long time ago here in the Negev,” Uzan said.

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