Gov. Riley to lead Ala. trade mission to Israel

Governor Bob Riley announced today that he will lead a delegation to Israel in September to promote trade ties between Alabama and Israel. The list of destinations include Tel Aviv, an industrial park in Birmingham’s sister city of Rosh Ha’ayin and a business incubator site in Galilee.

The mission is organized by the Alabama Development Office, the American-Israel Chamber of Commerce, the Birmingham Jewish Federation and Tech Birmingham. There were three recruitment meetings held the end of May in Birmingham, Huntsville and Mobile.

“This is a great opportunity to create new jobs for Alabamians,” Governor Riley said. “We’ll promote Alabama and look for companies interested in opening new operations in our state and new trade opportunities for Alabama companies. Our message is that Alabama is open for business and can offer much to Israeli industries and high-tech companies.”

Jim Tolbert, who is chairman of the mission for the Birmingham Jewish Federation, said, “Israel is particularly strong in these industry sectors and there are good opportunities to grow business partnerships, but our efforts won’t focus exclusively in these areas. We’ll also approach Israeli businesses that are on the leading edge in the life sciences, such as pharmaceuticals and medical device manufacturers.”

Defense and security-related industries will also be a focus of the trip.

Israel is one of the world’s leading centers for high tech. Rosh Ha’Ayin and the central section of Israel is a major location for start-up industries. The Israeli GDP grew by 4.2 percent in 2004, double that of Europe. While the Israeli economy hit a rough patch in after 2001 with the global high-tech slump and pressures of the Palestinian uprising, it has started surging forward again.

Alabama has historic ties with Israel. Birmingham has had a relationship with Rosh Ha’Ayin since 1981, and in September the Birmingham Sister Cities Commission plans to sign a formal agreement with Rosh Ha’Ayin and al-Karak, Jordan.

In 1943, Alabama became the first state in the nation to pass a resolution supporting the right of Jewish people to an independent homeland, and in recent years has passed several resolutions of support for Israel in the war against terrorism.

In 1997, Governor Fob James signed a cooperative trade agreement with Israel, and the following year Alabama’s exports of manufactured goods to Israel rose 306 percent. Last year, Alabama exported $26.7 million worth of goods to Israel, an increase of almost 48 percent over the previous year.

In addition, Alabama companies benefit from U.S. military contracts with Israel. Companies in Alabama received $1.35 million in contracts in 2003, according to information from the American-Israeli Cooperative Enterprise.

“Governor Riley’s strong sales skills and extensive business background have proven effective in previous visits overseas,” said Neal Wade, Director of the Alabama Development Office, referencing earlier trips made by the Governor to Germany and France that helped Alabama successfully recruit Kronospan and EADS. “We believe this mission will again deliver positive results for Alabama.”