This is a guest op ed from David Shafer, the President Pro Tempore of the Georgia Senate and Senator from Duluth.
Georgia’s Friendship with Israel Key to International Trade and Foreign Investment Growth
Israel is the cradle of the great Abrahamic religions and the site of many important events of the Old and New Testaments. It is also a modern democracy and one this country’s and state’s most important trading partners.
I recently had the opportunity to join a delegation exploring ways to strengthen ties between the State of Georgia and Israel. Sponsored by the American-Israel Friendship League, this year’s trip focused on Israel’s international trade and foreign investment growth.
While there, the delegation– representing nine states across the U.S – met with members of Israel’s Knesset, listened to briefings on Israel’s cutting-edge technology sector and discussed job creation with Israel’s leading business executives.
With a land mass the size of New Jersey and a population of eight million, Israel stands out as a model of economic success in today’s global economy. Although it represents one of the smallest nations in the Middle East, Israel is recognized worldwide as a leader in emerging technologies, defense infrastructure and the agricultural and manufacturing markets. We were able to learn from many of these innovative jobcreators first-hand in a packed schedule of highly productive meetings.
Particularly fascinating was our visit to the campus of ISCAR, a worldwide leader in metalworking and manufacturing tools. Founded in the garage of Stef Wertheimer, a Holocaust survivor, ISCAR is now a multibillion dollar division of Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway. We had an opportunity to visit with Mr. Wertheimer about the history of ISCAR and his vision for manufacturing in the 21st century.
Mr. Wertheimer is largely responsible for the exponential growth and development of “industrial parks” throughout Israel. These industrial parks – similar in concept to the business incubators operated by several of our public colleges but geared toward manufacturing — generate nearly $1 billion in revenue annually. The parks include manufacturing and warehouse space for startup businesses, technical training for the workers that those businesses employ and a range of services for the beginning entrepreneur. There is no limit on how long a business can remain in a park, but the rent ratchets up each year, giving them a powerful incentive to grow, build facilities of their own and make space in the park for a new business.
The industrial park I visited also included a school for the children of those employed at the park, creating a vibrant community where school children learned and played not far from where their parents worked.
With Israel’s vibrant economy and expanding role in the marketplace, Georgia can learn a lot from Israel – and vice versa. In 2010, our state became one of only 13 states to open an office of economic development in downtown Tel Aviv. As a result, Georgia has opened at least four companies in Israel, including Arel Communications and Software, Inc., Brand Energy and Infrastructure Services, Inc., and Travelport.
Georgia is also home to 17 Israeli-based companies that provide jobs to more than 700 hard-working Georgians. These jobs mainly employ workers in Georgia’s manufacturing sector and take advantage of our state’s highly-skilled workforce.
Even more remarkable is Israel’s bilateral trade relationship with Georgia. According to the Georgia Department of Economic Development, Georgia’s imports from Israel totaled $285.8 million while our exports totaled $158.8 million in 2012.
Strengthening the relationship between the State of Georgia and Israel is essential to fostering economic growth and showing companies both at home and abroad that Georgia’s doors are open for business.
I am grateful to the America-Israel Friendship League, the Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and members of Israel’s parliament and business community for their hospitality and willingness to build cooperative partnerships that benefit both Israel and the State of Georgia. It is my deepest hope that Georgia will continue to enjoy a longstanding friendship with Israel as we work together to expand and attract future business investment.