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Israeli Start-Ups Welcome Down South, Y’all

Companies large and small find a congenial home, supported by the southeast region of the American-Israel Chamber of Commerce

By DAVID SHAMAH, The Times of Israel, March 4, 2012

 Israeli business people at a presentation on ‘Why South Carolina’ during a recent mission by the AICC Southeast chapter to Israel

If you’re running an Israeli start-up and you’re thinking about where to locate your new American sales office, Alabama and Mississippi might not be the first places you think of to set up shop. In fact chances are they might be the last places you’d go or would expect to find other Israeli companies.

But if Alabama is good enough for ECI, and Mississippi is good enough for Israel Aircraft Industries — both of which have large American operations in those states — they’re probably good enough for your start-up. And if you’re looking for even more company, you can join the dozen Israeli firms operating in South Carolina, the two dozen in North Carolina, or the 40-some companies with headquarters or regional offices in Georgia.

And those are just among the big, established companies, said Tom Glaser, ?president of the southeast region of the American-Israel Chamber of Commerce. “We have many small companies and start-ups operating in the region, including 19 kibbutz-affiliated companies that have set up shop in the hinterlands of North Carolina.”

As it turns out, America’s southland is one of the more hospitable regions for Israeli companies in the US, thanks in part to the Atlanta-based AICC, says Glaser. “Here in the South, we have the largest support system for Israeli start-ups in the US, and Atlanta itself has more Israeli companies than all but five other US cities, including LA and Miami, to name just two.”

The AICC provides the usual services one would expect from a chamber of commerce: helping new business get acclimated to an area, helping them find appropriate office space, and hooking them up with local accountants, lawyers, and the like in an effort to alleviate the red tape and headaches that such a major move usually entails. Glaser also, however, works to introduce companies to potential customers, alerting companies and businesses in the six states his organization covers — Georgia, Mississippi, Alabama, Tennessee, North and South Carolina — when a hot new Israeli product or service comes to town.

In addition, Glaser has led trade missions to Israel from the southern states, seeking potential companies and hoping to make business deals between American and Israeli companies. And on one recent mission, one of those connections resulted in the sale of a biological cell imaging desktop system by Idea Bio-Medical of Rehovot to the Medical University of South Carolina. It was the first sale by Idea to an American customer, and both Idea CEO Shlomo Turgeman and Stephen Lanier, who handled the deal for MUSC, credited and thanked Glaser for bringing them together.

The organization has been operating since 1992, and last year AICC began a program targeting specific areas in South Carolina, in an attempt to increase trade between that state and Israel. So far, said Glaser, the program has been a success: Israeli exports to South Carolina were $44 million, while exports from the state to Israel rose 129 percent.

One thing that doesn’t worry Glaser is competition, particularly from  other states and regions that are trying to win Israeli business for their areas. Given the ongoing recession, many US states, regions, and even individual cities have been looking abroad for new business, and Israel, thanks to its lauded high-tech economy, has become a favorite place for American trade missions.

But Glaser believes there’s enough business to go around for all. “We’re definitely not in competition. Each region has its benefits. But we believe we have a good system here, one that we have honed over many years that can provide the kind of help Israeli start-ups need. It’s not that we’re better than anyone else, but of course I’m very happy when companies choose the Southeast.”

And if they don’t? “We’re happy to help any Israeli company in any way we can, wherever they are,” said Glaser.

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