How did the American-Israel Chamber of Commerce’s Southeast Region get its start? Why was it created? Has its purpose changed through the years?
AICC was organized in 1992 through the support of the Jewish Federation of Greater Atlanta and the Consulate General of Israel. The original impetus was to help Israel absorb the huge number of new immigrants (mostly from the Soviet Union, but also from other countries, including Ethiopia) by stimulating business relationships geared for the U.S. market as a way to create jobs in Israel.
Over the years, the mission has changed into much more of a mutual benefit as many new jobs were also created in the Southeast through our programs and initiatives. Since our founding over 21 years ago, the chamber has been involved in completed transactions between Southeast and Israeli companies valued at over $1 billion.
The Southeast (Alabama, Georgia, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina and Tennessee) is now one of the top five centers of activity for Israeli companies, and most of the major corporations in our region do business in Israel or with Israeli companies.
The American-Israeli chamber’s Southeastern U.S. regional office is in Sandy Springs. What brought its operations here?
I have lived in Sandy Springs since moving to the Atlanta area in 1992 to start AICC. Originally, we were in the Jewish Federation’s office in Midtown, and then next to the consulate’s office on Spring Street. In 2000, we moved the office to Lake Hearn Drive, just inside the Perimeter, and four years ago, we relocated to The Pointe on Northridge Road, just off Ga. 400. It is a very convenient location for our members, guests and Israelis who are visiting the area.
How are business relations between Israel and Georgia, and the Southeastern United States now? How have they changed over the last two decades?
Business relations are excellent. We have a great deal to offer Israeli companies as they look to enter the U.S. market through the Atlanta-Southeast portal. Our local and state governments, economic development agencies, and technology associations are great partners, and we can open doors for them to potential strategic partners, investors and customers.
As compared to 20 years ago, Israel is now a technology entrepreneurship powerhouse — the “Start Up Nation.” We can learn a lot from the Israelis as we seek to develop our own economic base in the Southeast. And local companies are now quite receptive to the idea that “if it came from Israel, you ought to take a good look at it.” This was certainly not the case when we started.
What attracts Israeli businesses to Georgia?
Number one is Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport. With their global orientation, Israeli companies need easy air access, which Atlanta provides throughout the Americas. Our costs of living and doing business are also significantly lower than the other regions they typically consider (primarily Boston, New York and Silicon Valley). We have one of the country’s fastest-growing Jewish communities, and also a sizeable Israeli community in Atlanta.
What sort of Georgia businesses succeed in Israel?
The Coca-Cola Co. was the first major Georgia company to dominate the Israeli market, and through the years, Coca-Cola has earned the reputation as Israel’s most respected brand. Subsequently, The Coca-Cola Co. has been mining Israel for technologies related to ingredients, water, energy and the supply chain.
BellSouth (now AT&T) was another big winner in the Israeli market when they established Israel’s second mobile company, Cellcom, in 1994, and subsequently sold their interest at a huge profit. AT&T also taps into Israeli technology, and has one of their four Foundry operations in Ra’anana, Atlanta’s sister city in Israel.
NCR just acquired an Israeli company, Retalix, for $650 million, and this was our 2013 Deal of the Year. But it’s not just the huge Georgia corporations that benefit by doing business with Israel. We’re seeing small and medium-sized enterprises succeed in Israel and partner with Israeli companies.
How did metro Atlanta become one of the top five centers in the country for Israeli company activity?
About 35 of [the Israeli businessses in Georgia] are in metro Atlanta, and the Perimeter area, Roswell, and Alpharetta are among the favored locations. Atlanta has been a favored location for them as a result of our efforts through the years, working with our economic development partners, to promote the area to Israeli companies and service them through our “headquarters” programs that provide an easy landing.