The Israeli economic minister to North America met with Allegheny County business and political leaders last week to identify business opportunities here for the Jewish state.
Specifically, Nili Shalev said she was interested in making local connections in the life sciences sector. She left open the possibility that a team of Israeli businessmen working in life sciences may visit the region in 2014.
“I came to meet the people who are involved with Israel-Pittsburgh ties in general and business ties in particular,” said Shalev, who was making her first trip to the Pittsburgh area. “I was especially interested in learning about the potential of life sciences, software and high tech.
“I came by myself, but hopefully we’ll now do a joint venture in the future and hopefully we’ll bring some business leaders over,” she added.
“Hopefully the first will be in the life sciences.”
Shalev joined Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald, Israeli Deputy Consul General Elad Strohmayer and Meyer “Skip” Grinberg, chair of the Community Relations Council of the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh in a roundtable lunch, Thursday, Oct. 31. The Federation coordinated the event.
Area executives and economic development professionals, and other political leaders, also attended.
Israel wants to grow its life sciences business sector, according to news reports. Already, the country is home to the world’s largest generic drug maker — Teva Pharmaceutical Industries, which recorded $10.4 billion in sales and $1.3 billion net revenue in 2012 — and several smaller research oriented companies.
According to Ynet, Israel’s Office of the Chief Scientist has increased the portion of its research and development budget aimed at life sciences to nearly 30 percent and launched several programs to fuel the industry.
Shalev, who works out of the Israeli Consulate in New York, said Israeli high tech and energy businesses have only so many business opportunities in the Jewish state.
“Israel is a small country,” she said. “There are local markets, but every company usually looks outward to export their knowledge and activity and the U.S. market is definitely one of the most important markets for Israeli technological companies.
“My interest is in those companies establishing the connections to grow in the market,” she said.
Typically, Israeli businesses have established themselves in markets on the East and West coasts.
“We want to expand,” Shalev said. “We want to show Israeli companies there are opportunities in other areas; it’s all about meeting the right people.”
Dan Gilman, the presumptive winner in this week’s Pittsburgh City Council election in District 8, which includes Squirrel Hill, was at the roundtable and came away thinking there were opportunities upon which Israel and the region can build.
“There is tremendous overlap in business interests, from natural gas to the ed-med community to bio-tech and pharmaceuticals,” Gilman said. “To properly develop relationships will take time and on the ground work. We need to educate Israeli companies about Pittsburgh and our assets.”
No concrete news came out of the session, according to Fitzgerald. “I wouldn’t say company A would move to Pittsburgh — nothing of that nature.”
That said, he still saw the meeting as productive.
“Obviously, the interest is to continue to strengthen the ties between our region and Israel,” he said. “Obviously, we have a very strong Jewish community in Pittsburgh and western Pennsylvania, and we want to further trade and cultural ties with the Jewish state.”
(Lee Chottiner can be reached at email@example.com.)