The Business Press: Riverside County eyes firms from Israel

03:32 PM PDT on Wednesday, May 12, 2010 (www.thebizpress.com)

By CHRIS H. SIEROTY
Contributing Writer

Trade between Israel and the United States has been making news as it has become one of the most important issues in American-Israeli relations. Since 2000, Israel has become America’s largest trading partner in the Middle East, according to the American-Israel Cooperative Enterprise.

Tom Freeman, Riverside County’s foreign trade commissioner, said exports from California topped $1.7 billion in 2009. Riverside County officials are hoping to benefit from that relationship by offering incentives to attract Israeli firms to the region or assisting local firms in their efforts to do business in Israel.

To gauge their potential interest, Freeman and Riverside County Supervisor Jeff Stone on April 30 met with officials at the Consulate General of Israel in Los Angeles to discuss the benefits Riverside County can offer Israeli companies and to identify specific industries that might have an interest in doing business locally.

“Israel already has extensive trade relationships in California,” Freeman told The Business Press. “What we were asking for and have agreed upon is for them to gauge the interest of (Israeli) firms in doing business in Riverside County.”

He said by the end of the two-hour meeting both sides had identified potential bio-medical and alternative energy firms that might be interested. Both Jacob Dayan, consul general of Israel in Los Angeles, and Freeman expected another meeting would take place in a couple of weeks.

That meeting was expected to give consul officials a better idea of the local firms who are interested in doing business with Israeli companies, Dayan said.

Trade ties between California and Israel have continued to strengthen since former Republican Gov. Pete Wilson signed a bilateral trade agreement with Israel in 1992, seven years after President Ronald Reagan signed the U.S.-Israel Free Trade Agreement, which eliminated tariffs on most products imported from Israel.

“We identified industries that could have an interest in the region,” Dayan told The Business Press. Dayan said Israeli technology companies that specialize in alternative energy would be the focus of any partnership. He said Israel was home to several cutting edge companies that focus on solar energy and water reclamation issues that could be interested in doing business in Inland Southern California.

“With the right incentives and right projects, Israeli companies will be interested in Riverside,” Dayan said. “I see no reason such a match can’t work.”

Dayan said consulate officials would extend an invitation to Riverside-based technology companies to attend the ILSI-BioMed 2010 Conference to be held in June in Tel Aviv. He said the next step was to send Sigel Admony-Ravid, Israel’s consul for economic affairs in Los Angeles, to Riverside to meet with county officials and business leaders.

“The key thing that we impressed upon them during our initial meeting was a series of incentives that no other county could offer them,” said Freeman. Those incentives include assistance with obtaining EB-5 visas, along with securing $30 million in loans and guarantees for businesses available this year from the Import Export Bank in Washington. The EB-5 visa for Immigrant Investors provides a method of obtaining a green card for foreign nationals who invest money in the United States. To obtain the visa, individuals must invest at least $1 million, creating at least 10 jobs, he said.

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