Arizona can be ‘launchpad’ for Israeli firms to US, Mexico, trade official says

With opening of new trade and investment office in Tel Aviv, the southwest US state seeks to create partnerships, ease the path for new technologies that will boost both economies

Shoshanna Solomon is The Times of Israel's Startups and Business reporter

Arizona Governor Doug Ducey at the Arizona Capitol in Phoenix, April 10, 2019. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)
Arizona Governor Doug Ducey at the Arizona Capitol in Phoenix, April 10, 2019. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

The US state of Arizona, with its arid climate and a population and economy similar to those of Israel, can be a “launchpad” for Israeli companies that want to penetrate the United States and Mexico, according to David Yaari, who’s in charge of the new Arizona-Israel Trade and Investment Office.

The office doesn’t want only to promote trade, he explained, but to promote partnerships and help Israeli firms set up a base in Arizona, and “give them the tools to be successful,” he said.

The November launch of the trade and investment office “is a powerful statement” regarding Arizona’s commitment to Israel, Yaari said. Trade between the southwestern state and Israel — the import and export of goods — has doubled from 2010 to $460 million in 2018. Arizona, the sixth largest US state by area, borders Utah, Colorado and New Mexico.

“My goal is to double that figure to $1 billion” through increased collaboration between companies and academic institutions, Yaari said.

Tony Rivero, Republican member of the Arizona House of Representatives (left to right), Knesset member Izhar Shay, Susan Marie, EVP of the Arizona Commerce Authority, David Yaari, Director General of Arizona Israel Trade and Investment Office, Glenn Hamer, CEO of Arizona Chamber of Commerce at the opening of the Arizona Trade and Investment Office in Tel Aviv; Nov. 2019 (Courtesy)

The office, established with $250,000 from the state’s 2020 budget, is part of the Arizona Commerce Authority.

The governor of Arizona, Doug Ducey, is making it a priority to “build up Arizona as a Startup State,” Yaari said, and Israel, “a phenomenal place of startup innovation,” is a perfect match to accomplish that aim. The Commerce Authority has targeted “Israel as a priority,” he said.

Both states have a similar arid and desert climate, and both seek technologies in agriculture, water, and environmental innovations to help them meet the challenges of the future.

The trade office follows several initiatives between Israel and Arizona over the last few years. In 2018, the Arizona Chamber of Commerce & Industry and the US-Israel Business Initiative signed a memorandum of understanding pledging to work together to support ongoing initiatives and activities to strengthen the economic and commercial ties between Arizona and Israel. Under the terms of the MOU, the two organizations agreed to collaborate on water, fintech, technology and startups, and defense and aerospace.

In 2015, during Ducey’s first year in office, he led a delegation to Israel to attend the WATEC water policy and management conference, becoming the first Arizona governor to lead a delegation to Israel.

Arizona State University, ranked the most innovative university in the US, has set up a study partnership with students at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev. The University of Arizona has set up a collaboration partnership with the Israeli university in the Negev desert for joint research projects focusing on desertification and climate change.

With the support of Jewish National Fund (JNF), the University of Arizona and the two regional councils of Israel’s Arava Valley are exploring a partnership to establish a JNF Joint Institute for Global Food, Water and Energy Security at the University of Arizona and in the Arava Valley, Yaari said.

The JNF Joint Institute will develop tools and methods to adapt technologies and start development programs to help communities in arid and hyper-arid environments, with a focus on Africa, he said.

The focus of any future collaborations between Arizona and Israel will be in a variety of fields, Yaari added, including financial technologies — helping fintech firms break through the regulatory challenges and bring their technologies into the system; property technologies; and digital health. “We want to pave the way for companies and allow them to pilot their products and clear any hurdles,” he said.

A variety of Israel-based companies have operations in Arizona, including Mobileye, a maker of self-driving technologies acquired by Intel Corp. in 2017.  Arizona is the first US state to allow testing of autonomous vehicles, Yaari said.

Other Israeli firms that have set up shop in Arizona are Universal Avionics Corp., a unit of defense firm Elbit Systems Ltd.; Keter Group, a maker of plastic-based household and garden products; 3D printer maker Stratasys; and business analytics firm Sisense. Online insurer Lemonade in May last year launched services in Arizona.

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