Georgia Governor Nathan Deal recently announced his plans to lead a business mission to Israel in June. Years ago when foreign leaders shunned the Jewish state, such an announcement would have been cause for celebration in Israel. But with today’s global connectivity, the Israelis are used to hosting delegations led by presidents, trade ministers, and royalty, so visiting governors from the United States are no longer the novelty they once were.
Yet it is good news for the state and its key partner, the Atlanta-based American-Israel Chamber of Commerce, that organizes business delegations to Israel at least annually. Governor-led missions usually attract a higher level of business executive participation than the typical delegations built around an Israeli conference. Israelis demand tachlis. When C-level participants from major corporations such as The Home Depot, NCR, The Coca-Cola Company, AT&T, McKesson, and ARRIS come to Israel, the expectation by Israeli business people is that real business will result.
This will be the first Georgia governor mission I have not helped organize. The first one was in 1993 when Governor Zell Miller went to Israel on a trip run by the ADL. At the time, there were only 2 Israeli companies with offices in Georgia: ZIM, Israel’s national shipping company and an Israeli diamond importer. Governor Miller really didn’t have any expectations to add more as a result of this trip; he just wanted to visit the Holy Land. But the Israel government took his visit very seriously, and used the occasion to announce the opening of an Israel Economic Office for the Southeast in Atlanta.
Seven years later at the height of the Dot Com era, we co-organized a business & technology mission for Governor Roy Barnes, the last Democrat to hold that office in Georgia. A huge delegation of business leaders, including then chairman of The Home Depot, Bernie Marcus, came with him to cultivate investment, trade, and joint ventures. By now, Georgia was home to 25 Israeli companies, and during the mission, 6 more announced plans to open operations in the state including Given Imaging, Scitex Vision, and Veritas Venture Partners. On top of this good news, Atlanta-based UPS announced a $100 million vendor deal with Motorola Israel.
In 2005, Georgia’s first Republican governor, Sonny Perdue, led another large delegation. In addition to a memorable meeting with Prime Minister Ariel Sharon (who just a short time later suffered a massive stroke), the governor announced 2 more Israeli companies’ plans to set up U.S. headquarters in the state (bringing the total to 45) as well as a Georgia company’s establishment of an Israeli R&D center and an Israeli venture capital firm’s investment in an Atlanta technology start up. A few months later, Delta Air Lines initiated non-stop daily air service between Atlanta and Tel Aviv.
Georgia has become one of the leading U.S. states having Israel-focused business and economic activities. Georgia is a leader in Logistics, Aerospace, Life Sciences, Communications, Information Technology, and more. It is also a strong manufacturing state as evidenced by Caesarstone’s decision to establish a U.S. production facility near Savannah. With a highly effective American-Israel Chamber of Commerce along with cooperation by state and local economic development agencies and the Consulate General of Israel to the Southeast, Georgia’s prospects for commercial and investment activity with Israel should continue to gain even more momentum from Governor Deal’s mission.