Florida is home to the third-largest population of expatriate Israelis in the world, and the south Florida area has one of the world’s largest Jewish communities. Business ties between Florida and Israel are strong, with many Israeli businesses already operating in south Florida.
“There’s definitely natural ties, and there’s great potential to grow those ties,” says Meital Stavinsky, a Miami- and Tel Aviv-based attorney who is coordinator of the corporate and securities Israeli practice for law firm Greenberg Traurig. Greenberg seized on those ties more than a decade ago when it began working in Israel to connect Israeli and U.S. companies. It was also the first foreign law firm to establish an office there when Israel began allowing such offices last year.
“There are business advantages, and there are cultural advantages” for Florida when working to attract Israeli companies, “including a full-service consulate, an Israeli Chamber of Commerce and a very large and active Jewish community that is very active in business,” says Manny Mencia, Enterprise Florida’s senior vice president for international trade & business development.
The best business advantage, though, may be the one most foreign companies see in the state: The opportunity to establish a base for operations in the U.S., Latin America and the Caribbean. “Every Israeli company has an international strategy because the local market is so small,” says Gary Epstein, co-chair of Greenberg’s Israel practice. Among the Israeli companies with a presence in Florida are Bank Leumi, Teva Pharmaceuticals (which purchased Ivax Pharmaceuticals in 2006), training and simulation firm SimiGon, the North American headquarters of telecom equipment maker ECI Telecom and the Americas headquarters of Makhteshim Agan, which produces products that protect crops from pests.
After several years with only a liaison office in Tel Aviv, Enterprise Florida plans to open a regular office there in October. “We feel there is an opportunity to attract small and medium-sized high-technology companies from Israel,” Mencia says.
A recent agreement between Florida and Israel will make it even easier to attract such companies, Stavinsky says. In May, Florida committed $1.1 million in recurring annual funds to support collaborative research and development between Florida- and Israel-based companies. The Israeli government will match the funds, and the first request for proposals will be for partnerships researching small satellite development. “Things seem to be changing substantially now,” Stavinsky says.
Mencia says he is hoping the fund helps attract companies in life sciences, technology, aerospace and defense — areas where Florida hopes to grow. “By positioning ourselves in Israel,” he says, “we’re positioning ourselves for a 21st-century economy.”