The Government gave its stamp of approval Tuesday for a NIS 300 million project to move approximately 60 factories from the central region of the country to the Noam Industrial Park in the Negev. The project, an initiative of the Israel Manufacturers Association (IMA), forms part of the government's strategic program to develop the Negev, the Ministries of Finance and Industry, Trade and Labor said after a signing ceremony to establish the park. "Our aim for the project is to reduce unemployment statistics in the region and diminish the social gaps which come with it," said IMA President Shraga Brosch. "Industry can be the central partner to bring a real change in the socioeconomic standing of residents of the periphery, relative to the center of the country." In light of this, Brosch said the project serves to improve the profitability of the factories by creating attractive economic conditions for those willing to move to the park. The NIS 300m. cost of the project, which falls into the budget of the Industry, Trade and Labor Ministry, includes a basket of benefits for companies that participate in the program. The program's goal is to bring 60 factories to the Negev in the next three years, which then would employ some 4,000 people in industry and another 4,000 in related services. Brosch reported that 12 companies have already committed to moving to Noam Park, and that 50 percent of the land, or approximately 190 dunam, already was taken. An additional 16 companies have expressed strong interest in making the move, he added. A number of conditions have been set out for companies wishing to participate in the program, including a minimum employee base of 25 people at the prospective factory. Also, the business must commit that the average salary of workers will not fall below NIS 6,750 over the next five years, and that 50% of the workers live in the southern region in the first year and 75% in the year after. The government has committed to covering the costs of a number of expenses involved in the project including 50% of the administrative and marketing costs, up to NIS 3.5m. The government also will cover half the moving costs, up to an amount of NIS 2.5m., on behalf of each company, and pay half the transportation costs, up to NIS 5,000 per worker per year, in the first three years of operation at Noam Park. The IMA is developing the project in partnership with the Prime Minister's Office, The Ministries of Finance and Industry, Trade and Labor, and the local authorities of Sedot Negev, Netivot, Merhavim, Ofakim and Sderot.