American Midwest Seeks Greater Cooperation with Israel  

Traditionally when Israel looks to cooperate commercially with America, people immediately think of the east and west coasts but rarely give serious thought to the center of the country.  But a new initiative emanating from Illinois aims to change that perception and create a third center of interest for Israeli industry.

Toward that end ground was recently broken in Chicago for the Discovery Partners Institute (DPI), a new research institute there where world-class researchers will work side-by-side with students and businesses to foster next-generation innovation and workforce development.

The $1.2 billion institute will be operated principally through private donations and partnerships with business and industry.  The institute is the inaugural step in the development of the Illinois Innovation Network (IIN), an initiative to spread DPI’s impact across the state and establish the Midwest as a major tech R&D center in the U.S.

To generate interest in this initiative and strengthen the interactions between the Midwest and Israel, a 14-member delegation from Illinois will be in Israel next week for a round of meetings and partnership discussions.

One group will represent the College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences (ACES) at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.  Headed by Dr. Elvira DeMejia, Assistant Dean for Research and Director of the University’s Division of Nutritional Sciences, the group of 7 will focus attention on tapping into the vibrant agri-tech community in Israel.  They will be hosted by the Hebrew University’s Robert H. Smith Faculty of Agriculture, Food and Environment in Rehovot for the purpose of fostering cooperation between the two university communities.   In addition, they will have a series of meetings with Israeli companies in the agri-tech space eager to identify new growth opportunities abroad.

The second group of 7 will represent the University of Illinois’ College of Engineering and the DPI.  Headed by Ed Seidel, Vice-President for Economic Development and Innovation for the UofI’s system and Dr. Pradeep Khanna, Interim Associate Vice-President for Corporate and International Engagement, the group will meet with all of the major universities in Israel with whom they signed MOUs during Illinois Governor Rauner’s visit to Israel last November.

During the visit the delegation will also meet with a sampling of the close to 400 alumni of the University now resident in Israel.

This is just one of many efforts to re-direct the thinking of the Israeli business and academic community to consider the Midwest when contemplating activity in the US.  Israel’s Consul General in Chicago, Aviv Ezra, has also been doing an outstanding job in promoting the concept of America’s heartland as a destination for Israeli companies.

Other initiatives abound as well.  A relatively new group, WeLaunch, is an initiative of private individuals across the Midwest dedicated to connecting the “Silicon Prairie” with the “Startup Nation.”  A number of government groups in the region also have economic development representatives here including the states of Illinois and Indiana, as well as the cities of St. Louis, Cincinnati and Dayton.  Finally, the America-Israel Chamber of Commerce in Chicago has also been promoting such activity for some time with the newest arrival on the scene, the Michigan-Israel Business Accelerator also promoting bilateral activity.

With over 65 million people the Midwest accounts for 20% of the U.S.’ population and an equal portion of America’s GDP.  So the area is ripe for further activity on behalf of Israeli companies.

Those of us who live in Israel used to say Haifa works, Jerusalem prays and Tel Aviv plays. In a paraphrase, actor Michael Douglas said “I’m impressed with the people from Chicago.  Hollywood is hype, New York is talk, Chicago is work.”  That sums up the attraction of the Midwest perfectly.


About the Author
Sherwin Pomerantz is a native New Yorker, who lived and worked in Chicago for 20 years before coming to Israel in 1984. An industrial engineer with advanced degrees in mechanical engineering and business, he is President of Atid EDI Ltd., a 29 year old Jerusalem-based economic development consulting firm which, among other things, represents the regional trade and investment interests of a number of US states, regional entities and Invest Hong Kong. A past national president of the Association of Americans & Canadians in Israel, he is also Immediate Past Chairperson of the Israel Board of the Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies and a Board Member of the Israel-America Chamber of Commerce. His articles have appeared in various publications in Israel and the US.
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