The State (of Israel) – and the (United) States

Digital World: Maryland business group and local firm bring Israeli cutting-edge technology to the US.

By DAVID SHAMAH
April 4, 2011 22:28
4 minute read.
TRENDLINES CEO D. Todd Dollinger

Todd Dollinger 311. (photo credit: Courtesy)

 
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For decades, and even today, Israel has been perceived among many in the US (and even here!) as a nation of “takers.” As in, takers of American foreign aid, with Israel the leading recipient of funds from America’s great international foreign-aid “welfare program” (in fact, it is not).

There is no doubt that the United States is a very generous country; it showers benefits upon its friends and even some not-so-friendly-to-the-US countries. Many Americans question the wisdom of such assistance, especially during hard economic times – and they certainly have a right to do so. But there’s more to the story than meets the eye.

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Of course, Washington knows what it’s doing, so if the powers that be continue to dole out economic and military assistance to countries all around the world, there must be something in it for the US. Regardless of the motives, being that aid is given at all should be sufficient reason for all recipient countries to give the US a standing ovation – instead of the alltoo- typical “Yankee Go Home,” heard in so many places! In Israel’s case, at least, there is a willingness to “give back.” Much of the assistance given to Israel is for military aid, and all that money has to be spent in the US, providing much-needed jobs in many places.

And Israel gives back in other ways, too, by exporting technology and technology companies to the US, helping establish hi-tech firms that are “ready for prime time” in a slew of places across America.

Much of this Israeli “assistance” takes place under the radar of the press and consumers of mass-media news. But it is a solid and growing phenomenon and has developed substantially in recent years. Almost every US state, from Massachusetts to Hawaii and nearly everywhere in between, has sent delegations of political and business leaders to drum up business for their states from Israeli institutions and companies, and Israel has trade agreements with almost every US state on everything from exports to agricultural and academic research.

And these deals pay off – for Israel, but especially for many of the states.

Over the past 10 years, for example, Massachusetts has exported to Israel nearly $3 billion in goods and services; in 2010 alone, Massachusetts companies garnered more than $23 million in contracts using the money Israel received in US military assistance. Little Israel is among the top 25 markets for Massachusetts exports (representing over 1 percent of the state’s total exports in 2010, just slightly less than the state’s exports to India).

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In fact, Israel and Massachusetts signed yet another deal last month, as Governor Deval Patrick and Israeli Chief Scientist Avi Hasson pledged to increase cooperation in life-sciences and alternative-energy research. And it has nothing to do with “the Jews,” who make up barely 4% of the state’s population! One of the states most involved in bilateral cooperation with Israel is Maryland. Not only have the governor and other state officials visited Israel numerous times in the past several years, but the state also has a unique investment and cooperation vehicle initiated and organized in the private sector: the Maryland/Israel Development Center (MIDC), which aims to promoted business relations between the state and Israel. The MIDC works closely with Maryland’s Department of Business and Economic Development and Israel’s Industry and Trade Ministry, with Jewish community organizations in the Baltimore and Washington, DC, areas and with Israeli business-development groups.

Recently, the MIDC, through its Marketreach America corporate-partnering program, hosted a delegation of 14 Israeli startups, part of the “road show” I’ve mentioned in recent weeks, organized by the Trendlines Group. Trendlines CEO D. Todd Dollinger, who announced a new investment fund cosponsored by the MIDC and Trendlines at the event, says the organization is “unique in that it is one of the few, if not the only, private-sector groups that works to help bring cutting-edge Israeli technology to the US, helping them navigate unfamiliar and often intimidating territory.”

Indeed, the MIDC does very good work, Dollinger says, adding: “The MIDC and Trendlines have been successfully working together for 14 years to promote business between Israeli and US companies and [the partnership] has assisted hundreds of companies in reaching US markets.”

Most important for the State of Maryland, he says, is that the MIDC/Trendlines partnership “has facilitated the opening of offices in Maryland for more than 30 Israeli companies.”

So effective is the partnership that the new investment fund, which aims to invest moderate sums (between $50,000 and $750,000) in early-stage companies, closed barely a week after it was first announced! In fact, says Trendlines chairman Steve Rhodes, “When they heard about the new fund in Baltimore, members of the community in Chicago [the third stop of the Trendlines road show] asked if we could do a similar thing there.”

Although it is one of the smallest states in the US, Maryland has one of the most extensive records of economic cooperation with Israel, thanks in large part to the MIDC/Trendlines partnership. Besides helping to improve the economy on both sides of the ocean and helping to introduce the best that Israeli hi-tech has to offer, the groups, with their efforts, are helping to dispel the myth – the canard – that Israel is a “taker” country.

When it comes to helping states – and citizens – all across the US, Israel gives as good as it gets!

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