A long-range vision for Mitzpe Ramon

With its new branch, McCann Erickson hopes to bring the South out of the economic wilderness

Mitzpe Ramon 521 (photo credit: Ariel Zilber)
Mitzpe Ramon 521
(photo credit: Ariel Zilber)
Tucked away in a quiet, semi-impoverished corner of this rustic town, a group of tech-savvy 30-somethings are brainstorming, fleshing out ideas about how to turn a tiny tourist hub in the middle of the Negev desert into something more than a scenic pit stop for Eilat-bound vacationers.
“We can have the first-ever marathon in the history of Mitzpe Ramon,” says Hana Rado. She is the CEO of the Israeli branch of McCann Erickson, one of the world’s premier advertising firms, which has garnered a great deal of media attention in recent months.
The discussion centers on sponsorships, media coverage, exposure, photography – all the trappings and promotional aspects of publicizing an event that one would normally see in a large city like Tel Aviv or Jerusalem. This time, however, McCann is determined to put Mitzpe Ramon on the map.
In a bold move, the Tel Aviv-based company built McCann Valley, a digital and new media branch office in Mitzpe Ramon. With the financial and logistical assistance provided by numerous government agencies such as the Development of the Negev and the Galilee Ministry, the Industry, Trade and Labor Ministry, the Finance Ministry and the Mitzpe Ramon Local Council, the new media center, which will offer its services to small and medium- sized businesses across the country, is the first of its kind in a town where unemployment is higher than the national average.
“This project was hatched over a year ago,” says Michal Romi, a Mitzpe native who left her job as manager of an interactive graphic studio in Tel Aviv to run the day-to-day affairs of McCann Valley.
“I had met with Hana because I wanted her to buy advertising in the magazine that I founded,” says Romi.
“During the conversation, I mentioned that I was returning to Mitzpe Ramon.
That was when the idea of opening a studio in Mitzpe came up.”
This past January, that idea became a reality. McCann Valley opened its doors to a group of 20 advertising and digital marketing professionals, most of them in their late 20s to mid-30s, who found the prospect of relocating to the central Negev quite intriguing, particularly given the prohibitive costs of raising a family in the greater Tel Aviv area.
McCann’s vision for the project is both philanthropic and corporate. On the one hand, it seeks to promote business through advertising on Google and Facebook, provide services to small and medium-sized firms with limited budgets and help companies brand their products through Facebook-friendly strategies. While the company is mindful of its bottom line, it will also require its employees at the Valley to donate a portion of their office time to giving back to the local community through volunteer initiatives.
“The work we do here is unlike the work that we do in Tel Aviv,” Rado says.
“In Tel Aviv, we handle some of the major, large-scale clients in the market.
Here, we focus more on small and midsized firms that want to promote their wares on Google.”
Rado adds that the company was able to make the move to Mitzpe Ramon, since the transition to online-based businesses has neutralized the importance of office location. McCann’s new office in Mitzpe Ramon could manage a client’s Facebook brand page just as effectively as its Tel Aviv headquarters.
“Working here is great fun,” says Karni Fahima, a Mitzpe native who was hired as an office secretary. “It’s a new, entrepreneurial venture that helps develop Mitzpe. While it may not shorten the physical distance between Mitzpe and the center of the country, it does shorten the technological distance somewhat. This really makes us locals happy, since there are more options now, and there’s something we can strive for.”
“One of the major problems that has prevented Mitzpe Ramon from developing is the fact that there aren’t enough workplaces here,” Romi says.
“Tourism is the main industry here, which means that many end up earning minimum wage as hotel workers, jeep tour guides, rappelling instructors and the like. As someone who grew up here, this is one of the main reasons that I had to leave. There just weren’t enough job opportunities.”
Maoz Degani directs the Internet marketing activities at McCann Valley.
A 38-year-old married father of two, Degani has found a home in Mitzpe after moving there two months ago from Givatayim.
“I really like living here,” he says.
“It’s a very pleasant environment, quieter than what I’m used to. We have much more fun with the kids. We have a house with a yard. We wander around nature and enjoy the desert. I work just two minutes away from where I live, so I’m able to eat lunch with my family every day. These are things that I didn’t have before, things I never dreamt of having.”
According to Rado, when the project was announced, the responses she received from employees who expressed interest in relocating to Mitzpe were overwhelming. Because positions were limited, the company instituted a stringent screening process for candidates who were eager to continue earning a Tel Aviv-level wage but at half the cost of living.
“I know that a lot of people my age and in my situation are dreaming of getting out of the center,” Degani says.
“What scares them, though, is the question of how they are going to support themselves. What we have here at McCann Valley is something akin to a magical solution. I think more people will come here, and McCann Valley’s vision of having more businesses come to Mitzpe Ramon will be realized in another two to three years. They’ll see that it works and that it makes economic sense.”
“We are looking at this project from a holistic point of view,” Romi says. “We want to set Mitzpe Ramon on a path forward.”