Maryland Governor Robert Erlich Jr. (left) is greeted by by Tel Aviv University President Itamar Rabinovitch.Israel and Maryland have formed a partnership in Homeland security – a symbiosis of Maryland´s facilities and Israel´s expertise. The announcement came during the visit last week to Israel of a 27-person delegation from Maryland headed by Gov. Robert Erlich Jr.

The four-day trade mission served as a catalyst to push business cooperation between Maryland and Israel forward. During the course of his visit, Ehrlich unveiled a number of new initiatives, as well as meeting with government and business leaders in Israel.

“This trade mission is an excellent opportunity to meet face-to-face and establish personal relationships with Israeli entrepreneurs and elected officials,” said Governor Ehrlich during his stay. “Technology companies play a significant role in both of our economies and the formation of strong, strategic partnerships will truly be a mutual asset as we compete in the global marketplace.”

But Ehrlich’s visit was not simply business as usual. Ehrlich’s agenda in Israel reflects how the visits of state officials to the country have evolved since the September 11 attacks, noted Barry Bogage, Executive Director of the Maryland/Israel Development Center, which organized the visit

“He is extremely interested in what Israel has to offer in the field of homeland security. State and local officials, in this era have to pay attention to International affairs and terrorism – it is no longer just a federal issue. We want our partnership to Israel to help us with emergency preparedness, emergency medical treatment and law enforcement,” Bogage told ISRAEL21c.

To this end, Ehrlich announced during his visit the creation of the Maryland/Israel Partnership in Homeland Security, a symbiosis of his state´s facilities and Israel´s expertise. The Homeland Security Partnership will include conferences, seminars and exchange visits to examine issues such as risk analysis and preparedness. An immediate measure announced by Ehrlich´s office was the implementation of Israeli-developed security precautions at Baltimore-Washington International Airport and the port of Baltimore.

During the delegation’s visit, members visited the port of Haifa to examine their security arrangements, and toured Hadassah University Hospital in Jerusalem to learn about its cutting-edge trauma techniques.

In the business arena, ties between Israel and Maryland are already strong. Israel ranks 27th on the list of countries as a source of foreign investment in Maryland – 18 Israeli companies have offices in the state – and Maryland businesses invest about $70 million a year in Israel, according to the Maryland-Israel Development Center.

With the focus of the visit on business cooperation, governor met with representatives of two Israeli technology companies in Germantown, Maryland, that also maintain offices in Israel, that are in the process of expansion. Oblicore, a software developer, will double the size of its office staff over the next year, hiring an additional 12 employees. Medispec, which develops, manufactures and markets high-tech medical equipment for the fields of urology, uro-gynecology and orthopedics, will also expand its corporate offices in Maryland.

“These expansions are outstanding examples of the close economic relationships Maryland has with Israel and Israeli companies,” said Ehrlich. “We hope to establish even closer connections between our two business communities, particularly in the areas of biotechnology and advanced technology sectors.”

A business luncheon hosted by Erlich was also an opportunity for members of the Maryland delegation that accompanied him to meet with other Israeli businessmen considering expanding or locating offices in Maryland. The Maryland delegation included business leaders, Jewish community leaders, members of the medical community and state government officials.

During a visit to Tel Aviv University, Ehrlich announced two new research collaboration projects between Maryland and Israeli universities and research organizations – the Joint Center for Reliable Electronic Systems Qualification and the Collaborative Marine Biotechnology Research and Development Program.

“Maryland and Israel share a number of strengths, particularly in the biotechnology and engineering sectors,” said Ehrlich. “By combining our resources, we are bringing together some of the brightest and most knowledgeable scientists and research facilities to study issues that are of concern to both of our communities.”

The Joint Center for Reliable Electronic Systems Qualification will conduct and coordinate joint reliability research between the University of Maryland Clark School of Engineering and the Tel Aviv University Fleischman Faculty of Engineering. The Center will study reliability standards of the ‘commercial off the shelf parts’ (COTS) currently being used in sophisticated electronics systems.

“In the electronics academic and industry communities, ‘reliability’ represents the desire to optimize electronic systems’ speed, performance and longevity,” said Dr. Joseph Bernstein, Associate Professor, University of Maryland Department of Mechanical Engineering. “And reliability is critical to the electronics field, especially as pertaining to the military, medical and infrastructure industries, which depend on reliable, standardized commercial off-the-shelf components.”

The Collaborative Marine Biotechnology Research and Development Program is a partnership between the University of Maryland Biotechnology Institute (UMBI) Center of Marine Biotechnology (COMB) and several Israeli research institutions. The collaboration will study and develop new environmentally sustainable and economically feasible aquaculture technologies and explore new avenues for the production of marine natural compounds with pharmaceutical potential.

“Life in both Maryland and Israel is centered around the marine and estuarine environment and both states have a long track record in basic and applied marine research,” said Dr. Yonathan Zohar, Director of the Center of Marine Biotechnology. “This partnership will help reverse our seafood deficits, protect the marine environment and lead to high value marine products.”

The project was initiated by the Israeli Ministry of Agriculture and the Maryland/Israel Development Center on behalf of the State of Maryland. Both governments will provide $250,000 annually for three years to fund the research.

Together with Israel’s Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Industry and Trade Ehud Olmert, Ehrlich announced an innovative business and entrepreneurship development program that will bring Israeli entrepreneurs to Maryland for U.S. business development training, consulting and introductions to U.S. business opportunities. The program is being funded by a grant to the Maryland/Israel Development Center from the U.S.-Israel Science and Technology Foundation (USISTF), a cooperative program between the US Department of Commerce and the Israeli Ministry of Industry and Trade.

“This outstanding initiative will bring together Israeli technology entrepreneurs, especially in the life sciences, and American business people and give them the opportunity to develop innovative approaches to linking technology and business between our two countries,” said Ehrlich. “This will serve as an important catalyst for technology innovation and foster strong relationships that will ultimately bring new products, new processes and new technology to the global marketplace.”

“The partnership between Israel’s technology entrepreneurs and Maryland’s business development resources will be beneficial to both communities. As our businesses grow through this partnership, they will provide jobs and economic development opportunities to Israel and Maryland,” said Olmert.

Five Israeli companies will be selected to participate in the MDI program in the first year. The MIDC hopes to continue the program with an additional entrepreneurs being selected annually in subsequent years. The program will consist of a four-stage process that includes: business development and cross-cultural training; consulting and mentoring; preparation and practice; and a U.S. business development trip for each company.

During the weeklong business development and cross-cultural training stages, conducted in Maryland, entrepreneurs will train with experts on strategic planning, market analysis, financing alternatives, intellectual property protection, and business culture issues. They also will work with experienced mentors and consultants who will critique the entrepreneurs’ initial business plan and vision and provide invaluable market insight to the entrepreneurs. The outcome will be an outline detailing the steps needed to complete the U.S. market entry strategy.

In the third stage of the program, the entrepreneurs return to Israel for ‘preparation and practice’ during which time they will conduct the research to complete the strategy and practice investment presentations. Mentors and the MDI sponsors will use their network of business contacts and experience to give entrepreneurs the opportunity to present their business to the most promising potential U.S. partners and investors.

According to Bogage, “Maryland has long been recognized as a leader in the nurturing environment and support it provides to young entrepreneurial companies, particularly in the technology sector. This grant will allow us to combine the research and innovations of Israeli entrepreneurs with the experience and business acumen of some of Maryland’s best business people. The results promise to be exciting and rewarding for both communities.”

During his visit, Ehrlich also met with Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. Sharon’s spokesman, Raanan Gissin, described Sharon’s hour long meeting with Ehrlich as “very good and warm. This kind of support for Israel at a time when we are under a great deal of international pressure is very important.”