Gene labs and boutique slaughterhouses

Ben-Eliezer looks for ways to create jobs during tour of the North.

ben eliezer safed 248.88 (photo credit: Ron Friedman)
ben eliezer safed 248.88
(photo credit: Ron Friedman)
Industry, Trade and Labor Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer inaugurated two new factories and met with residents, local politicians and industry leaders in the North this week. The tour started in Katzrin, a town of 7,500 that is the capital of the Golan Heights. Ben-Eliezer presided over the grand opening of Nistec Golan, an electronics-component assembly plant. The new production site, situated in the town's developing hi-tech industrial park, belongs to the Nistec group, an electronics manufacturing, design and services company with six subsidiaries spread across the country. The new plant is expected to employ more than 100 people from Katzrin and the region. His next stop was a local genetics laboratory, Galilee Genetics Analysis, a recently launched venture that provides genetic-sequencing analysis, helpful for the early detection of breast cancer and other diseases and also for proving genetic links between individuals for court cases. GGA is the first lab of its kind in Israel. Until recently, all the tests needed to be sent to Europe or North America to be completed. In Katzrin, Ben-Eliezer also visited Meytag Ventures, a public-turned-private business incubator, and one of its successful investments, the company Lithotech, which recently received a US patent for medical tools it invented to help smash stones caught in human urinary tracts. In a meeting with Katzrin Mayor Sammy Bar-Lev and Golan Regional Council head Eli Malka, who told him of the shortage of job openings in the region and of drops in investments due to the global economic crisis, Ben-Eliezer said, "The Industry, Trade and Labor Ministry possesses a wide range of tools to help encourage people to go out to work." The ministry could help by training workers in the necessary fields, finding jobs for those who want to work, encouraging entrepreneurs to settle in the periphery and providing business loans and consulting services to companies in need, he said. After Katzrin, Ben-Eliezer and his entourage made their way to Safed and the local Employment Service office, where they met with Mayor Ilan Shochet, municipal councilmen and local job seekers. "I came here to learn about the problems that exist and the reasons for unemployment," Ben-Eliezer said. "After my conversation with the mayor, I am convinced that he knows that I am willing to offer all the available tools to help." "He has a tough job ahead of him," he said. "It means convincing people to come and lay the foundations for industry. But I can tell you that I am behind him fully, with a truckload of tools at my disposal." Ben-Eliezer said he was particularly interested in seeing young people move to Safed. He recalled the days when he was a soldier in the IDF base outside the city and how he and his friends used to come to Safed on their vacations and that the city was vibrant. He also said he would offer subsidized day care and after-school programs so that the women of Safed and the region could join the job market. While Ben-Eliezer spoke to officials, a group of 20 women, mostly Israeli Arabs and new immigrants, participated in interviews at the Employment Service for a new call center opening in the city. The last stop on his tour was a new chicken-processing plant in Safed's industrial zone. The plant employs 60 workers, and its managers plan to expand the number by 30 or 40 more, once the in-house store is up and running. "We provide meat for restaurants and local stores," plant manager Motti Ezra said. "We don't work with the chains. We're a boutique slaughterhouse." "I know it's hard to work in this kind of job," Shochet said in a speech before the plant's workers and local residents. "Because of the nature of the work, the conditions are dirty and smelly. But believe me, I'd rather have many simple and straightforward businesses like this in my city - businesses that support working people and their families - than sit around and wait for a shiny new office complex to be built." "I'm here to say that one swallow does not make a summer," Ben-Eliezer said. "This is good, but it is only the beginning. There is nothing we won't do to help the City of Safed." "I expect that the next time I come here there will be more factories," he said, "and I will be very sad if I hear that you have unemployment. Everything we do is to increase employment. It hurts me to see families that can't celebrate the holidays properly." Ben-Eliezer said he was pleased to see minorities represented in the workforce, adding, "The state must provide employment for all of its citizens." High unemployment rates in the country's periphery have led the ministry to develop new tools to help create jobs in the region. According to Avi Feldman, the ministry's director of development for the Negev and the Galilee, they offer a variety of incentives for potential employers to open up businesses in the region. These include wage subsidies for new factories, helping small businesses adopt new technologies and government funding for large "change-producing" businesses. "Some have been in the plans for years, but are only now receiving funding after the passing of the budget, and some we're still working on developing," he said. While many factories have closed or decreased their operations due to the global economic crisis, Feldman said over the last few months he's seen a change for the better. "The factories that reduced their operations to four days a week are back in full swing, and new one's are opening in place of those that were closed," he said. "All in all, I think the balance is positive."