Haredi job growth impresses Fischer

'What is happening in Modi'in Illit is important,' says BOI governor.

haredi biz feat 88 298 (photo credit: Courtesy)
haredi biz feat 88 298
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Bank of Israel Governor Stanley Fischer on Tuesday praised the initiative of Modi'in Illit to attract hi-tech companies to set up operations there, boosting employment in the town and lifting its socioeconomic standing. "I had heard a lot about what is happening here and it has been very interesting to see first hand that industry as a whole is developing here," Fischer said during a tour of the haredi town. "When you look at poverty in Israel, the haredi and Arab populations are two that are severely affected, which is the reason that what is being done in Modi'in Illit is important. It is very good for the economy but more than that, we are talking about poor people who want to work and who tend to stay in their positions." Fischer visited the town as part of a series of tours the central bank is conducting of different segments of Israeli society in an effort to better understand their economic impact and situation. Previous tours included businesses in Sderot, Karmiel, the North and the Kibbutz movement, and the bank's spokesman Gabi Fishman said they are planning to visit the Druse community soon. Sparking Fischer's interest was the growth in Modi'in Illit that caused the Central Bureau of Statistics to raise its socioeconomic ranking of the town from the lowest level of 1 to 2 in its latest report on local municipalities. Local council head Yakov Guterman told Fischer that four key government decisions concerning the town contributed to its progress. These included the establishment of its call-center project, government subsidies of land, a security fence around the town and the allocation of NIS 90 million to link the sewer system to the national grid. Guterman, in his second term of office, also led a drive to market the town's untapped, work force to Israeli and international hi-tech companies. The model focuses on providing work suitable for married women who can provide cheaper, skilled labor. To date, Modi'in Illit has attracted the likes of computer services provider Citybook Services, IT firm Matrix and data capture company ImageStore to open facilities in the town - between them employing approximately 500 local women. With at least three other companies offering similar services, Guterman is reportedly in negotiations to bring more companies into Modi'in Illit. Despite its growth, however, a separate report prepared by the town council showed that 1,500 of approximately 6,500 families in the town are beneficiaries of social services. An average of 3.5 new requests for assistance are received every week. Nevertheless, Eli Kazhdan, a business consultant for Citybook, explained in a presentation to Fischer, the dynamics were changing in the haredi community with its involvement in the work force rising and expanding beyond its traditional focus of education. "The haredi community is more willing to work than ever," Kazhdan said. "Between 2002 and 2004, the number of haredi men looking for work rose by 4.4%, while 5% of women moved from part time to full-time work." He added that, in 2005, 25% of haredi women enrolled in skills training were in areas outside of education, which grew to 50% this year. The success of the Modi'in Illit has led to its model being applied in other towns with Matrix recently setting up a similar facility in Bet Shemesh and Citybook Services also having operations in Betar Illit. "Significant benefits are being realized by companies who have set up operations in haredi environments," Kazhdan said. "Haredi employment has become an integral part of the globalization of Israel's economy."