For many people, Israelis and visitors alike, the Negev has always been just off their radar. Maybe it was where they served in the army, or stopped for ice cream on a family trip to Eilat or to see the red poppy fields in bloom. Perhaps they were on a Federation tour to see a development town or show solidarity with the residents of Sderot. But rarely did a person say, “It’s time to go see what is happening in the Negev.”

But those days are over. The Negev is now. The new “it” place. Business leaders and politicians from around Israel and the world have been dropping by. Mega-missions and fact-finding teams have added Beersheva to their itineraries.

Even the Lonely Planet travel guide has noticed and encouraged visitors to see the Negev, a “giant greenhouse of development.”

The transformation of the region is real and impressive to behold. It is the result of a rare convergence of interests – of the Israel Defense Forces, the government and the business community – that is building on the research strengths of Ben-Gurion University of the Negev (BGU). It is clear that the development of the Negev, that David Ben-Gurion dreamed of, is genuinely taking place and in a sustainable fashion.

Three key factors have contributed to this transformation by creating a tipping point.

First, the founding of the Deutsche Telekom Innovation Laboratories at BGU in 2004: This highly successful research group, consisting of over 100 faculty and students, has created a critical mass of researchers that has proven attractive to industry giants from around the world. In the past year alone, BGU has signed research agreements with Elbit, Lockheed Martin and most recently, IBM. This has created an ecosystem of innovation that has become a model for academic-industry collaboration and led to the recent creation of CyberSpark, the Israeli Cyber Innovation Arena, in Beersheva by the Israel National Cyber Bureau.

Second, the opening of the Advanced Technologies Park in close proximity to BGU in 2013: A joint project of the municipality, BGU, KUD and the Gav Yam Negev management company, the ATP was 17 years in the making, but is now a very successful reality.

The 57-acre hi-tech park is increasingly succeeding in creating the very type of quality jobs that were needed – in turn providing the incentives that ensure our excellent graduates stay in the region.

The original idea for a hi-tech park was the brainchild of MK Prof. Avishay Braverman, who had witnessed firsthand how Stanford University was the engine of development in what was to become Silicon Valley. Today, the first ATP building includes international powerhouse companies such as EMC-RSA, Elbit and Lockheed Martin and the JVP Cyber Labs. The second building is already under construction, turning the area into a silicon wadi. All of these international companies are building on the robust and high quality scientific and technological research of BGU and its talented students.

And finally, the historic decision of the IDF to move its bases to the Negev, particularly to relocate one of its hi-tech elite technology units to the ATP and its intelligence units only five kilometers down the road. This is much more than the actual bases as the IDF has adopted a comprehensive view to this relocation, bringing about an investment in infrastructure – roads, schools and medical facilities – for the benefit of all the residents of the Negev.

New projects abound – a training school for the intelligence fields that will attract some of the country’s most outstanding youth before their army service; a high school with advanced study tracks in fields such as cyber security and information systems alongside broad humanistic and social education; and dedicated programs to encourage local high school students to achieve. These kinds of initiatives create a ripple effect, increasing investments in education, attracting excellent teachers, and thus creating an atmosphere of excitement and hope as people rise to the challenge.

Behind it all is a determined and committed government and highly motivated, “pioneering” people who took David Ben-Gurion’s words to heart and invested in building Israel’s last frontier – the Negev: “It is in the Negev that the creativity and the pioneering vigor of Israel shall be tested.”

This is the time of the Negev.

Isn’t it time you came to visit? The writer is the president of Ben-Gurion University of the Negev.


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