Ormat Technologies, a maker of environmental energy solutions, is Israel’s Exporter of the Year for 2013. The award was presented in a ceremony Tuesday in Tel Aviv, with President Shimon Peres and Economics Minister Naftali Bennett, along with awards to nine additional companies for “excellence in exporting.”
Awards for excellence in exporting are things you might associate with a struggling 1950s emerging economy, not a high-tech powerhouse like Israel circa 2014. But according to Bennett, the award is most definitely in place. Israel is an export-oriented economy, and the more companies that manage to do well in the export sector, the better. “I congratulate the companies for their entrepreneurship and diligence in achieving this status. It’s not easy to excel at exporting. What typifies all of the winners of the award is their ‘chutzpah’ in working hard to create jobs for Israelis.”
According to many business leaders, that entrepreneurship and diligence is especially necessary today, in light of the strong shekel that is crimping the ability of Israeli companies to export. Israel’s relatively high interest rates attract foreign currency investments, which increase the value of the shekel. As the value of the shekel rises versus foreign currency, exporters have a harder time selling abroad because they get fewer shekels for the fixed foreign currency prices (usually dollars or euros) they can sell their products for abroad. Thus, more foreign currency needs to be converted into shekels in order for companies to pay their bills, while the foreign currency they earn abroad in dollars buys them fewer shekels.
The Bank of Israel has been trying hard to stem the increase in the shekel’s value through a combination of foreign currency purchases and interest rate cuts. So far the effects of those actions have been limited.
The Exporter of the Year prize is actually given for multi-year activities, awarded to companies that have built up their exports over a period of several years, and often decades, the Economics Ministry said. Ormat, the Ministry said, has for years been a world leader in the establishment of geothermal energy systems around the world. Not just a leading exporter, Ormat is also a leader in environmental technology. The company, which has been in business for 40 years, sells turnkey power generation systems based on its Ormat Energy Converter — a power generation unit that converts low-, medium- and high-temperature geothermal heat into electricity.
In its latest deal, Ormat announced several weeks ago that it had successfully completed the work necessary to fulfill its power purchase agreement with Pacific Gas and Electric Company (PG&E) in California for the delivery of up to 7.5 MW of electricity from the Mammoth G1 geothermal power plant in Mono County. Ormat in 2013 refubished the plant, which had been built in 1984, to use geothermal energy, replacing natural gas.
“Constructing the Mammoth G1 geothermal power plant and reaching commercial operation under the new PPA with PG&E is another example of Ormat’s ability to add value to existing operating assets,” said Yoram Bronicki, president and chief operating officer of Ormat. “By replacing the original equipment with Ormat Energy Converters, we already see an increase in the power plant’s efficiency and expect increased availability, lower operation and maintenance costs.” It was just the latest of a number of such conversions by Ormat in recent years, Bronicki added.
Ormat has 1,100 employees, 600 of them in the US, and operates in 24 countries around the world, the company said, adding that its technology was protected by no fewer than 82 patents.
Among the other top exporters were Conduit, which makes an app development platform for mobile developers; Enzymotec, a maker of lipid-based compounds for nutritional ingredients and medical foods; Adin Dental Implant Systems; Moroccan Oil Limited, a maker of cosmetics; Aromor, which manufactures flavorings and fragrances; H. Lavin Cosmetics; and Amiad Water Systems. Each of these companies does tens of millions – in some cases hundreds of millions – in business abroad each year, with the vast majority of their production exported.
A special award was presented to a company that, while not Israeli, has deep roots here. Cisco, which makes networking and communication devices and systems – and just last week announced that it was investing in an R&D center for cyber-security start-ups in Beersheba – received the Best Multinational in Israel award. The tech giant has been in Israel for 16 years, employing now 2,000 people, and during that time has invested $6.5 billion in Israel.
Speaking at the event, Peres said that the awards weren’t just about what the companies had accomplished in the past – but about what they would do in the future as well. “I, along with all Israelis, value your contribution to the State of Israel, and in its name and the name of its citizens, I express our deep gratitude. May you continue to grow and prosper, and with your help Israel will grow and prosper as well.”