The State of Illinois signed a cooperation agreement with the Israeli government Monday, recognizing the mutual economic interests in the two regions, particularly in the field of homeland security.
The agreement, signed by Chief Scientist Eli Opper and Illinois State Senator Jeffrey Schoenberg, comes during a week long visit to the country by an Illinois delegation aimed at encouraging Israeli homeland security companies to expand their operations in the US state.
"Israel has long been a leader in deploying advanced technology applications and Illinois has a very similar economy," Matthew Summy, deputy director of the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity told The Jerusalem Post. "We're seeking trade partners that can have joint ventures with Illinois companies, and in order that Israeli technology providers and manufacturers will have a distribution point in North America."
Illinois is home to some of the world's largest corporations including Boeing, Caterpillar, Kraft and Motorola and Monday's agreement clears the way for future agreements to advance research & development cooperation with Israel, and for the establishment of professional exchange programs for individuals and corporations wishing to learn more about the respective business environments.
Having kicked off the mission over the weekend, the delegation is the fourth of its kind from Illinois to visit Israel in 12 months. What makes it unique, Summy noted, is the focus on the local homeland security market this time round.
"We have trade missions to other parts of the globe but Israel is the only place that we have done a homeland security focused delegation," he said giving the high level of technological advancement as reason for the focus along with the influence of Illinois Governor Rod Blagojebich, himself a leader in the field.
Summy explained that Blagojebich strongly identifies with the preparedness, planning and technological development activity that is happening in Israel and, therefore, initiated the project to grow the local industry through partnerships with Israel.
As part of its incentive scheme, Illinois is offering financial reward, tax benefits, assistance in worker training and exposure to its venture capital market for Israeli companies looking to open offices in Illinois.
Its program to attract businesses to the area gave grants of $150,000 to some 23 companies from around the globe which opened officers in Illinois last year, and Summy said that a similar budget of around $3.5m is available this year. Israeli companies applying for the grants would first need to find a joint venture partner in Illinois or set up an office there.
And, there is no shortage of Israeli interest in the opportunity. Summy said that each of the 10 members of the delegation are holding four to six meetings a day with Israeli firms interested in Chicago, Illinois and North America through the weeklong mission. The delegation also held a seminar in Jerusalem Monday in which approximately 60 companies participated.
The delegation's visit was arranged by Atid EDI, the trade representatives of Illinois and six other US states in Israel.