Economic Mission proving long distance relationships can work

As the lead representative for Israel's Finance Ministry in the US, Tzvi Chalamish, works to build bridges with the country's largest trade partner.

By MATTHEW KRIEGER
October 4, 2007 22:53
2 minute read.
Economic Mission proving long distance relationships can work

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As the lead representative for Israel's Finance Ministry in the US, Tzvi Chalamish, works to build bridges with the country's largest trade partner. "We try to help our economy - and try to do anything good for our economy - which includes organizing business partnerships between US-based companies and Israel," the chief fiscal officer of the Israel Economic Mission in New York told The Jerusalem Post, pointing proudly to the currently under construction Trans-Israel highway as an example in which the Mission has been successful in bringing down costs while at the same time getting work that is top quality. "We organize infrastructure projects that need to be constructed and bring companies from the US to work in Israel," Chalamish said. "Because we brought outside firms into the bidding process, the competition in the end will lower the price. On the highway project, we brought in banks from the US to finance the project, injecting the local economy with valuable foreign investments." Chalamish, however, describes his primary responsibility as working to help the Israeli government close its budget gap. "We help finance the budget - usually the Israeli government expenditures are larger than its income, so we help cover that difference." How? By raising money. Especially pleasing to Chalamish has been the marked increase in the sale of market-issued bonds. The Israel Bonds Association sells bonds to Jewish citizens and until the 1990s this was the main source of capital raising used by the Israel Economic Mission. "While we still raise money through issuing bonds, which are an easy way to raise money with long guarantees, over the last three years, because of the fact that we haven't needed to raise as much ... we have instead focused on putting the money we raise into other investments." As the face of the Israeli economy in the US, Chalamish constantly juggles between maintaining relationships with old investors while, at the same time, cultivating new partnerships with new potential investors. "Because we want to be as efficient as possible, we meet at least once a year with all of our investors to update them about new developments in the Israeli economy, as well as organize conferences with senior economists and industry leaders from Israel," he said. "In 2004, we had over 100 investors - our biggest investors are state pension funds and institutional investors," Chalamish noted, pointing out that last year the New York state pension fund invested more than $1b. in Israel. Meanwhile, the connections Chalamish is building through his ever-expanding group of investors in Israeli-bonds is also proving to have very beneficial side effects. "Because we represent Israel, the same investors have a great opportunity to learn about and hopefully invest in Israel's private-sector companies," he said. According to Chalamish, investments in Israeli companies from US-based individuals or American venture capital firms reached a new high in 2006, peaking at over $12 billion, a reality that he attributes primarily to the current strong state of the Israeli economy and a decrease in the number of suicide attacks that had plagued the country in recent years. "We have definitely seen a rise in investment coming with the better security situation. It also helps to have Stanley Fischer here as someone with a reputation," Chalimish said. In addition to raising money for both the public and private sectors in Israel, the Economic Mission is the finance manager for all economic missions in the US, including Israel's trade and tourism offices, a responsibility that entails managing offices in NY, LA, Houston, Chicago, Atlanta and Toronto and arranging meetings between Israeli businessmen and potential US-clients.

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