For 22 years until my retirement last October as co-founder and president of the American-Israel Chamber of Commerce-Southeast Region (AICC), I was intimately involved in the movement to develop business, economic, and research collaborations between the United States and Israel. Since 1992, I have been witness to and participant in the extraordinary evolution of Israel from developing country to the Start Up Nation.
Back in those early days following the first Gulf War, Israelis were emerging from their bomb shelters, the Russian immigrants were coming in droves, and there was tremendous concern about how to put them to work and make the Aliyah a success in Israel’s small and isolated economy. There were no cell phones and Internet, making it was extremely hard for Americans to communicate with Israelis. The old adage — How do you make a small fortune in Israel? Start with a large one — was more than a joke.
It was in this environment that Jewish communities in the U.S., with the encouragement of the Israeli government, started programs to help grow the Israeli economy by encouraging investments in Israel and exports of Israeli products. The idea was to get American Jews to start manufacturing operations in Israel and use their business connections to import Israeli goods to the U.S. market as a way to create new jobs. As we did in Atlanta, non-profit organizations were formed in many American cities and states to promote Israel and facilitate these types of collaborations. Some succeeded and continue to evolve to this day while others failed and closed shop. We never were able to create a central entity to fund and coordinate these activities throughout the country.
What we didn’t realize at the time was that our efforts would be equally beneficial to the American economy and would go beyond the “Jewish good guys” to include mainstream U.S. companies, governments, and economic development agencies. Despite the continued conflicts in the Middle East and divisions within Israel, there is now a fairly widespread belief in the United States that Israel is a technology hotbed and worthy place for investment and business & research collaboration. While the geographic coverage is spotty and Israel’s existential problems do not seem to go away, the Israel economic development movement has much of which to be proud.
I have long felt that the Israeli media have ignored this movement, and this is what motivates me to write a blog for The Times of Israel’s Start Up Section. In the coming weeks and months, I plan to focus on the American side of the U.S. – Israel business equation with articles about the people, companies, and organizations making a difference. I welcome ideas, contacts, and feedback from readers, and hope, in my retirement, to stay connected and provide value to the movement.
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