From armaments to hi-tech

Yokne’am provides its residents with a high level of local employment

Yokne’am521 (photo credit: Courtesy)
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Yokne’am, or Yokne’am Illit as it is officially known, is a northern town that is considered an excellent real-estate investment opportunity.
Yokne’am was founded in 1950 and became a local authority in 1967 and a city in 2007. One of its attractive attributes is its excellent road connections adjacent to the country’s major highways, such as Road 6 with its northern outlet at Yokne’am, and Road 70, which connects half of the old Tel Aviv-Haifa highway with the North.
This accessibility means that residents can find employment in a wide geographical area. Families from Haifa and as far south as Herzliya and even Tel Aviv can buy quality housing at prices which are far below what they would be paying in the metropolitan areas of Haifa and Tel Aviv.
Yokne’am is located southeast of Haifa in a hilly region of the Lower Galilee, at the foot of the Carmel mountain range. It is 12 kilometers from Haifa and 80 km. from Tel Aviv. The city has a strong economic base that can offer employment to most residents.
Its large hi-tech industrial area provides interesting job opportunities within walking distance from residential areas, a concept that is taking root in the Western world. In Israel, one of the best-known illustrations of this concept is the Ramat Gan Diamond Exchange compound, where the Africa-Israel and Gindi development companies have built high-rise, high-end residential tower blocks adapted to the needs and pockets of diamond merchants and brokers.
This industrial/residential combination is attractive to the approximately 20 percent of Yokne’am breadwinners who are employed at local hi-tech companies.
Moshe Edri of the Anglo-Saxon real-estate agency told Metro that “semidetached dwellings sell for up to NIS 1.6 million on average, single family homes sell for as much as NIS 2 million and spacious four-room apartments sell for NIS 900,000.”
The city offers residents a high quality of life because, among other things, it has retained its rural character. Yokne’am is therefore much in demand and this trend is reflected in real-estate prices.
But it was not always so. In the not-so-distant past, Yokne’am was very much a backwater. The present city was founded on the ruins of the Palestinian village of Qira, which was destroyed during the War of Independence. It is called Yokne’am Illit or Upper Yokne’am because it was located above Moshav Yokne’am, which was founded in 1937 by European immigrants. In 1950, Yokne’am Illit was officially founded and the city began to absorb new immigrants from Arab countries, primarily Morocco.
Soltam, an arms manufacturer that was a large supplier of guns and shells to Iran, was the area’s main employer and economic mainstay. When the monarchy fell in Tehran and the shah and his family fled in 1979, the new Islamic regime severed all links with Israel and Soltam lost its largest customer; it consequently dismissed most of its workforce and area unemployment rose sharply.
But every cloud has a silver lining and the current prosperity of Yokne’am can be traced to the outcome of the Soltam crisis. Yokne’am elected Mayor Simon Alfasi, who has been in office ever since. He quickly realized the need to attract modern industries, and persuaded the government to grant it a “National Priority Area A” status for science-oriented industries – which it has retained to this day. Approved enterprises in Yokne’am Illit enjoyed the highest level of tax benefits and investment grants, and companies relocating to the region could apply for concessions in local taxes over a three-year period from the municipality. The mayor then built a science-oriented industrial park and investors started flocking to it, among them Intel, Mellanox, Marvell, Medtronic, Given Imaging, Lumenis and a rejuvenated Soltam Systems. Yokne’am’s science-oriented hi-tech industrial park is now the country’s fourth largest.
In addition to spurring the creation of this hi-tech infrastructure, Alfasi is a “green freak” who claims that Yokne’am “is the greenest city in Israel.”
“Yokne’am is a natural green city,” says the mayor, “nestled as it is in a green environment of forested hills. We do our utmost to make the city green. Our hi-tech industrial park is a ‘clean’ environment. We are the hi-tech center for the northern districts of Israel, and from our small corner of the world come new technological developments that influence the lives of millions of people around the globe.”
Real-estate prices in Yokne’am are low in comparison to that of the Center and Haifa, but there are large price differentials within the city itself. Because of its hilly topography the town has a sausage strip shape. As a result, the oldest neighborhoods are the least expensive while the newest and most expensive areas are in the north.
A four-room apartment in the veteran Nof Hacarmel neighborhood costs NIS 500,000, compared to up to NIS 900,000 in the new neighborhoods.
“Prices in Yokne’am have risen sharply since 2006 but during the past two years they have steadied, despite the fact that demand is greater than supply,” says Edri. “An important factor fueling demand is investment demand, because an average three-room apartment can generate an annual yield of over 4%.”