Gov. Jon Corzine was in Israel this week on a trip geared toward improving the already blossoming relationship between businesses in New Jersey and the Jewish state.
Corzine arrived in Israel Sunday and spent the week meeting with Israeli business leaders, as well as Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, President Shimon Peres, and opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu. Corzine’s meetings have focused on economic, cultural, and geopolitical issues, such as green technology, biotech, terrorism, and homeland security. Although his trip coincided with a visit by Democratic presidential hopeful Barack Obama, Corzine said in a conference call with the press on Monday it was unlikely their paths would cross as his focus was on strengthening Israel and New Jersey’s economic ties.
Gov. Jon Corzine tries desalinated water at VIP Desalination Company along the coast in Ashkelon. photos courtesy governor’s Office/Tim Larsen
"I do believe there is an enormous opportunity since Israel is focused on biotech, efficiency, and conservation measures that are applicable" in New Jersey, Corzine said during the call.
"Our most important purpose is to try and create economic connections between New Jersey and Israeli business community, particularly in biotech and clean tech," he continued. "Israel is focused on biotech and alternative energy, and efficiency and conservation measures that are very applicable to New Jersey. That’s where we’ve got a great opportunity."
The governor’s trip was marred earlier this week when an East Jerusalem Arab injured at least three people during a bulldozer rampage, an apparent copycat of the attack earlier this month, according to Israeli authorities. On Wednesday Corzine spent the day in Sderot, the Israeli city on the Gaza border that has been hit by more than 7,000 rockets since ‘000. He called the visit the "most singeing event" of his trip.
"It shows very clearly that terrorism has a front line and it clearly is in Sderot," he said from Tel Aviv Wednesday night. "The Israeli people are under constant threat, and we have a lot more work to do to combat terrorism."
Corzine’s pro-Israel reputation preceded his gubernatorial term, and he has visited the Jewish state several times before. This, however, was his first trip as governor, and he is funding it out of his own pocket.
"I’m very pleased that he’s made the trip and maintained his commitment to make that trip despite all the circumstances that almost prevented him from going," said Jacob Toporek, executive director of the New Jersey State Association of Jewish Federations. The trip had been postponed because of a budget crisis and then because of Corzine’s near-fatal car accident last year.
"The fact that one of the few people that went to Israel with Corzine was a top staffer with the [state’s] department of commerce is very indicative of what one of the priorities will be," Toporek said.
The governor’s trip included a visit to a desalination plant, a review of security technology at Ben-Gurion Airport, and a luncheon with Israeli companies operating in New Jersey and New Jersey companies operating in Israel. On Thursday, he was scheduled to drive Israel’s prototype electric car. (See page ‘0.)
"Everyone is aware of it and working on the battery to make this even more attractive," he said Wednesday. "I’m anxious to get a presentation tomorrow."
He called attention to LiveU, an Israeli company that seeks to refine technology for video uplinks. For example, Corzine said during Monday’s call, the technology would replace satellite trucks outside of football stadiums.
LiveU, which was founded in ‘006 in Israel, recently opened an office in Fair Lawn, which Corzine said would bring an unspecified number of new jobs to the area. Calls on Wednesday to LiveU’s Fair Lawn office were not returned.
While Corzine laid the groundwork for future relations in Israel, he emphasized that the trip was about building future business relations.
"Nobody’s going to say, ‘I’m going to sign the dotted line today,’" he said Wednesday. "We’ve got a number of leads where we should pursue things. There is a tremendous, tremendous focus on biotechnology here in Israel that I think fits very, very closely with what we’re doing in New Jersey."
New Jersey exports to Israel grew 195 percent in ‘007 to approximately $4.5 billion, making New Jersey Israel’s fourth-largest trading partner in the United States, Corzine said.
The prospect of new Israeli businesses in New Jersey was welcome news back home.
"These are the types of leads, as the governor comes back, that we will jump on [for] the opportunity to work with the company and assist them in any way we can," said Andrea Yonah, executive director of the New Jersey-Israel Commission, a program of New Jersey’s State Department to strengthen the economic ties between the two. "We’re very excited about that."
During his trip, Corzine met with Eitan Yudilevich, the executive director of the Israel-U.S. Binational Industrial Research and Development Foundation. The BIRD Foundation is a federal program started in the 1970s with an annual endowment of $110 million, contributed by both countries, that provides grants to Israeli businesses operating in America.
Earlier this month, the N.J.-Israel Commission renewed its agreement to act as the foundation’s official representative in New Jersey. Nine companies in this state have received BIRD funding in the area of $9 million as of January.
"We believe this is a win-win partnership for New Jersey and Israel," Yonah said.
More than 70 Israeli companies have locations in New Jersey, according to Yonah.
"Since ‘004, this collaboration has enhanced the state’s relationship with Israel as significant global trading partners and places particular emphasis on New Jersey’s strength as a foremost leader in research and development," Corzine said Tuesday in a statement released by the commission.
"This partnership between the N.J.-Israel Commission and the BIRD Foundation has fostered great advancements in state-of-the-art technologies and other key industry sectors for both Israel and the State of New Jersey," he said. "As we move forward we are emphasizing new areas, such as renewable and alternative energy, with the potential for significant success."
Corzine met with Yudilevich on Tuesday to discuss the partnership.
"We’ve let New Jersey companies know about the funding so if they have a partnership in the pipeline, perhaps that project will get a higher priority because it’ll lower the company’s financial risk," Yonah told the Standard. "Since we’ve done that in ‘004, it’s been very successful in New Jersey because New Jersey has so many companies that are a perfect fit."