PHILADELPHIA — The State of Israel and the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania have signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU), itself a decade in the making, that officials say will usher in a new era of trans-Atlantic business development.
Pennsylvania Secretary of Community and Economic Development Dennis Davin and Ambassador Dani Dayan, the Consul General of Israel in New York, inked the document Nov. 6 at Thomas Jefferson University.
“It’s very important to have written acknowledgment of how welcome Israeli companies are in the Commonwealth,” said Naomi Adler, CEO of the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia. “For years, we have been working on this memorandum through the Pennsylvania Jewish Coalition and all the other partners.
“In an environment where companies may think twice, having this agreement is a wonderful way to show that the governments, the nonprofits and the business institutes in Pennsylvania welcome Israeli companies with open arms.”
More to the point, it sends a message to those that might attempt to prey on negative attitudes.
“It’s one more stake in the heart of BDS,” she continued, referring to the pro-Palestinian boycott, divestment and sanctions movement that’s threatened Israel in recent years. “When a company thinks, ‘Maybe I may not be welcomed,’ here Israelis are welcomed, and we are welcome in Israel.
“I see it as one more opportunity to show the close alliance between companies. There are companies being pushed away for lots of different reasons. But if they’re worried about their products or their partnerships or their connections to Israel, this is a way to say ‘No, you are incredibly welcome here.’ In fact, the secretary and the government have signed this agreement saying you are welcome.”
Still, officials said it’s no time for the local Jewish community to rest on its laurels.
“It’s fantastic and it only validates what we already knew, that the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania is entirely committed to strengthening commercial ties with Israel,” said Vered Nohi, executive director of the Philadelphia-Israel Chamber of Commerce (PICC). “In reality, though, it’s like a membership. If we don’t make the most of our membership, it doesn’t mean anything. So now the work is beginning.”
Dayan is confident the MOU will have significant impact.
“It means they’ve opened the gates for many Israeli companies,” said Dayan, who thanked his predecessor, Yaron Sideman, for paving the way to make this possible. “I’m quite confident that when implemented you’ll see many more Israeli companies based in Philadelphia and in Pennsylvania on both sides of the state. In some sense, Israel and Pennsylvania have economically reinvented themselves along the same lines of innovation. It’s only natural this agreement is signed now.”
The MOU signing came at the end of a long day at Jefferson, following a series of panel discussions and one-on-one meetings at the Greater Philadelphia-Israel Big Data and Digital Health Summit. That’s where Israeli startup companies met with potential investors and partners to determine compatibility.
Nineteen Israeli startups made the trip here as part of a delegation that continued on to Stony Brook, N.Y., and Hartford, Conn.
Now that the MOU has been signed, there’s a greater likelihood those partnerships here can work.
“It’s a very important platform to our bilateral cooperation that we can create a kind of vehicle to encourage companies on both sides to work together,” said Inon Elroy, Israel’s Economic Minister to North America. “It enables companies to reduce the risk. When you cooperate with somebody and many times the government gives financial support, it’s less risky. There’s also an understanding that the state is giving its support.”
Not only could this be a win-win situation for companies who join forces and Israeli companies who set up shop here, ultimately it should get passed down to the general public, especially with some of the innovative advances in medicine, officials said.
“Basically, the way the health system interacts with patients is going through a revolution,” said Mark Tykocinski, dean of the medical school and provost of the university. “Digital health is one of the ways in which that revolution will take place. It essentially brings the tools of computers and data so you can provide care to patients in a more efficient and effective way. Given Israel’s drive to innovation, Israel has as much to give to us as we have to give to them.”
The MOU is the 14th Israel has signed in the United States.
“It’s invaluable,” said David Briel, executive director of Pennsylvania’s Center for Direct Investment, Office of International Business Development. “The big thing it does is help us to connect with Israeli companies. It’s a great new asset for the commonwealth to have partnerships. Now we know who to call. Having that personal connection is going to bring results.”
Of course, some will grow impatient waiting to see how it plays out. In time, though, the consensus seems to be their patience will be rewarded.
“It’s strengthening an already strong relationship that exists between Pennsylvania and the State of Israel,” said Mark Zucker, chairman of the Pennsylvania Jewish Coalition. “It positions Pennsylvania much more in the global economy and acknowledges its role in innovation and entrepreneurial spirit.”
“The commonwealth doesn’t have the same resources that Israel has allocating for innovation,” Nohi added. “Israel is the No. 1 country in the world per capita for innovation. Many people have advocated for that, including the Jewish Federation and [the] Jewish coalition because business has no boundaries.” PJC
Jon Marks writes for the Jewish Exponent in Philadelphia, an affiliated publication of the Pittsburgh Jewish Chronicle.