Techwatch: Nir and Far: The challenge that awaits Jerusalem's incoming mayor

This edition of TechWatch is addressed to Nir Barkat, the incoming mayor of Jerusalem.

nir barkat great 224 88 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimksi [file])
nir barkat great 224 88
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimksi [file])
This edition of TechWatch is addressed to Nir Barkat, the incoming mayor of Jerusalem. Dear Nir, While many in Jerusalem excitedly await your inauguration as the next mayor, this edition of "TechWatch" takes a look at some of the activities and companies that you were involved with in your first career as a hi-tech entrepreneur; it also offers a couple of suggestions to help you make good on your promise of delivering more jobs to Israel's poorest city. (Some background for those who don't know: In 1988 Barkat founded BRM, a venture-capital fund that invests in early-stage, Israel-related software, Internet infrastructure and communications companies. BRM invests in Israel-based or Israel-related information-technology companies.) One of the Herzliya Pituach-based company's earliest investments was in CheckPoint, a firm that has become one of the worldwide leaders in securing the Internet and a shining example of Israeli ingenuity put to great use. Check Point offers total-security solutions featuring a unified gateway, single-endpoint agent and single-management architecture, customized to fit customers' dynamic business needs. Nir, on any given day, dozens, of commuters from Jerusalem and its surroundings commute to CheckPoint's research and development offices in Tel Aviv. As one of the founders of the company, your opinion probably continues to hold some influence over the current company leadership. Why not at least try to convince CEO Gil Shwed of the importance of establishing a Jerusalem-satellite office? Should you be successful in swaying Mr. Shwed, instantly you will bring hundreds of jobs to the city while simultaneously saving the daily grind of commuting for employees who will ultimately be happier and more productive. Currently, Jerusalem's two hubs of hi-tech employment are in Har Hotzvim and Malha. In both locations, however, thousands of meters of office space sit empty, waiting for occupancy. Additionally, in Har Hotzvim, there are currently three large office complexes under construction, bringing with them tens of thousands of square meters of available office space. As you are more than aware, young companies are often strapped for cash, a reality that is even more apparent during this steep economic downturn. Why not have the municipality "rent" these spaces and offer them to young and dynamic start-up companies from across the country at a steeply discounted rate, if not completely free, in return for a commitment from them to remain in the city and make it their corporate headquarters. If the city is smart about it and chooses the right companies, the initiative will more than pay for itself as the increase in employees will certainly translate into higher revenues from taxes and greater sums of cash spent on local goods and services. Unfortunately, your budget is going to be just as tight as some of these start-ups. But it is important that there be somebody in City Hall who is solely focused on marketing the city to up-and-coming companies from across the country, selling them on the benefits of conducting business here - something that you had attempted to do with Start-Up Jerusalem. The organization, however, does not seem like it was able to leverage its "star power" and create real change in the economic situation on the ground. As mayor, you now have the opportunity to push the initiatives proposed by the organization through the red tape that has stalled many of its, and your, ideas. Any great company knows that the more they invest in their employees, the more, in-turn, the employees will invest in the company. Jerusalem, as a corporation, needs to start thinking this way about the people who not only live here, but the people who work here. The city should make a concerted effort to reach out to the CEOs of Jerusalem-based companies and offer them perks and bonuses to distribute to their employees, much like as is done in successful corporations. These can take the form of free tickets to The Jerusalem Theater, discounted vouchers for meals in Jerusalem restaurants, guided tours around city landmarks - anything that will help successfully "market" the city to employees who work here, maybe in the process convincing them to live here as well. Similarly, the city needs to do a better job of promoting the fact that hi-tech employees who relocate to Jerusalem from Tel Aviv receive discounts on their arnona (city taxes). This is a big step in the right direction, but not enough people are aware of it. Jerusalem needs to promote this benefit across the country. Finally, Nir, Jerusalem would benefit from a city-center district that is both worthy of the 21st century and one that businesspeople love to hold meetings in. The wireless project that was launched downtown a couple of years ago seems to have gone mysteriously off-line, while there is not a hint of the benefits that could be provided from alternative energy in the area. Herzliya proudly has installed solar-powered muni-meters, while Sderot has set up a wireless system (with some help from 012Smile and Alvarion). But Jerusalem sits in the dark ages. The downtown needs to be revitalized, and not just through expensive and hulking construction projects, but from simple solutions that give locals a sense of pride in their hometown. Nir, remember, nobody said the job was going to be easy. But the people of Jerusalem support you and are counting on you to help this city realize its full potential.