US lawmakers, business seek strengthened Israel ties

‘We’ve been charmed by entrepreneurs here,’ says American Chamber of Commerce Executives senior vice president.

By NADAV SHEMER
December 8, 2011 23:17
4 minute read.
Ramat Gan's high-rises have great views.

Ramat gan buildings 521. (photo credit: courtesy)

 
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Two high-level American delegations reached out to Israeli business leaders during visits to the country this week, as they explored cooperation in renewable energy, aerospace, medicine and other technologies.

The American Chamber of Commerce Executives (ACCE) brought to Israel two dozen heads of business representative bodies from American and Canadian cities, including Atlanta, Denver, San Jose and Ottawa.

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A separate group of seven elected officials from New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Hawaii was also visiting the country.

Members of both delegations told The Jerusalem Post on Thursday that they see endless opportunities for business collaboration with Israel, and spoke with admiration of the innovations they saw during their visit.

“We’ve been charmed by the Israeli entrepreneurs,” ACCE senior vice president Chris Mead said.

Pointing to a networking event hosted by the organization’s local partner the Federation of Israeli Chambers of Commerce (FICC), Mead said the group was bombarded with financing and invention ideas, which gave them a sense of the vitality of the business world in Israel. He said one of the inventions that most impressed them was a machine that folds clothes.

The delegation’s visit comes at a time of declining US influence in the Israeli economy. According to the FICC, the United States’ share in Israeli trade dropped from 21 percent in 2006 to 19% in 2010, while the share of Asian countries rose from 17% in 2006 to 21% in 2010.

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However, Mead said chamber executives were not worried by macroeconomic trends, and preferred to focus on how they could use trade with Israel to the benefit of their own communities. He said a decade of taking delegations overseas had taught the ACCE that it can lead to new breakthroughs in business relations.

“It’s a fairly efficient way of fostering business connections.

I don’t know if there’s a perfect way, but because it’s human contact, there are not many degrees of separation. It’s a matter of meeting one person here and then telling one person in the United States about it,” Mead said.

One of the cities keen on expanding its business partnership with Israel is Hartford, Connecticut. Oz Griebel, CEO of the Metro Hartford Alliance, said the city already enjoyed a strong relationship with Israeli aerospace and biotechnology companies, but added that it was looking to expand this connection to new markets. In particular, he said his chamber of commerce is searching for export opportunities to Israel and for ways to attract reverse investment into Hartford from Israeli companies.

The group of state officials, much like their counterparts in the business delegation, also explored ways to expand the relationship between Israel and their own communities. The state officials were brought here by the American Jewish Committee educational institute Project Interchange.

Given the 12-hour time difference, Hawaii House Finance Committee chairman Marcus R. Oshiro traveled about as far from his home state as he could in order to join the delegation. But he said the distance was not necessarily a bad thing, and could be used as a catalyst for cooperation between two states poor in natural resources but rich in intellectual talent and innovation.

“Hawaii is in a very important position in the Asia- Pacific. We’re at the doorstep of Asia, where more than half the world’s population live, where around half the world’s gross domestic product will be,” he said.

“Hawaii is a gateway to the region from the United States, so there are a lot of opportunities for Hawaii and Israel to develop these economic, research and education ties,” he said.

Oshiro said he would report back to the Hawaiian legislature and research centers about what he saw in Israel. He singled out a meeting the group had with Technion chemical engineer Prof. Hossam Haick, who heads a research team working on ways to detect cancer through a person’s breath.

“That’s going to save lives across the globe. For a small country like Israel to be able to do that, it shows people in Hawaii, where there are 1.3 million people, that through using our intellectual talent, we too can develop into a world-class exporter of ideas, products and services,” he said.

Ohio representative Connie Pillich said her state is still struggling to move into knowledge-based industries, and could learn from the way Israeli start-ups operate.

“What I’m finding in Israel is they place a high premium on developing and encouraging creativity and risk-taking in these types of projects, which is something that we in Ohio really need to foster as well,” she said.

Like Oshiro, Pillich was impressed by Prof. Haick’s cancer research, and she said that there was potential for a new partnership between the Technion and Cincinnati – which is home to a highly regarded medical center.

Pillich said she would also recommend expanding ties between the Israel Air Force and 10,000 engineers serving at Wright Patterson Air Force Base – the US Air Force’s largest base, located in her own representative district of Montgomery. Pillich, herself an eight-year USAF veteran, said that although the US has been at war for a long time, the Israel Air Force could bring to Ohio a different perspective on the performance and shortcomings of American-made aircraft.

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