ISRAEL21c learns why the second-largest state in the US and the smallest state in the Middle East make good business together.
While at first glance Israel and Texas may seem worlds apart culturally and in their approaches to business, consultant Arie Brish, an Israeli-American businessman who has spent more than two decades in the State of Texas, doesn’t see any dissonance. He sees tremendous potential for business deals between the two.
“There are cowboys in Texas and it’s very casual. Like in Texas and in Israel you don’t have to wear a suit and tie, and this combination fits the Israeli culture,” Brish, who built his career and raised his family in the oil state after growing up in Israel, tells ISRAEL21c.
He has spent more than two decades in the second-largest US state, working at Israeli high-tech companies, and later at his own company, and five years ago he was one of the founders of the Texas-Israel Chamber of Commerce.
In February, the chamber had a big success, when it organized a delegation of 25 Israeli clean tech companies to Texas. It was the largest delegation of its kind to reach American shores expressly to coincide with a local conference. Brish says that deals are already in the works with the US state, which is number one in wind energy in America.
Although Texans are known for extravagant living, fueled by their lucrative oil industry, they are similar to Israelis in their keen interest in developing renewable energy, Brish says, adding that “Texas now produces enough wind power to power the state of Israel – about nine gigawatts.”
Personally representing Israeli clean tech companies, Leviathan Energy, and WindSL, the Israeli clean tech companies and their Texan matches are currently going through what Brish describes as a “pregnancy.” While they aren’t prepared to announce any deals, he says that they are in the works.
Connecting through clean tech and bio tech
Many of the Israeli companies that caught the eyes of Texan investors and strategic partners specialize in water technology, like metering company Arad Technologies (a smart grid like Greenlet) and wind and solar companies such as Interdan, which four years ago, in conjunction with the Ministry of National Infrastructure and the Negev Development Authority made the Palestinian Arab village of Drijat in southern Israel the first town in the world to be outfitted with a multipurpose solar electricity system that provides power to the entire village. Notable speakers at the conference included Israel’s chief scientist Eli Opper, the lieutenant Governor of Texas, and the head of the Land Office of Texas.
Clean tech is still only a recent focus. The chamber has hundreds of members from both sides of the pond, comprising large Texan or Texas-based companies, organizations and individuals in various fields.
Beyond their mutual interests in developing clean technology partnerships and businesses, the two states share much in the biotech business in pharmaceuticals and medical devices, says Brish.
“The goal of our organization is for Israeli companies to open their US offices in Texas or create their US headquarters in Texas and there are a lot of good reasons for doing so,” he declares. “Of course it depends on the technology. Energy, oil and gas, now clean tech and water are big in Texas, as well as its medical business. The industry is advanced in Texas and it’s a good location for Israeli companies to do clinical trials,” he states.
Lone Star States are kindred spirits
Texas Governor Rick Perry told the chamber: “I want Texas to become the preferred location for Israeli companies doing business in the US. Like Texas, Israel has a long history of growing new technology companies through partnerships that include universities, government and private investors and entrepreneurs. Strengthening relationships between these two ‘Lone Star States’ will benefit our respective economies and increase understanding.”
The relationship is already two-way, with Texas exports to Israel totaling about $1 billion each year Brish says, mainly in high-tech exports from Dell, IBM and HP all of which have major facilities in Texas. “There is lots of military and defense [business] in Texas that goes to Israel,” he adds.
Interestingly, some American companies with a significant presence in Texas can also be found in Israel. Semiconductor Motorola spinoff Freescale has a large R&D center in Israel and Intel does, too. “All the big high-tech companies that have a big presence in Texas are also found in Israel,” Brish relates.
For that reason it’s not uncommon to see high-tech executives at Intel in Texas hailing from Israel. This is true for Freescale, Alon and Delek, the gas companies from Israel which have a major presence in Texas with their oil refineries and gas stations. Brish also mentions Elbit Systems, the Israeli defense company whose headquarters are in Texas.
Twenty-one years ago when Brish first moved to Texas, there was virtually no activity between Texas and Israel. He says he watched the relationships developing over the past 10 or 15 years, but that since the creation of the chamber there’s been a surge in business cooperation. The opening of an Israeli economic consulate in Texas has been very helpful as well.
Informal, affordable networking
Brish estimates the number of Israelis living in Texas as being in the thousands, with many of them starting out at the massive University of Texas at Austin. “Younger people are coming to study and stay; they don’t go back,” he says.
His own involvement with Texas began when he worked for Motorola Semiconductors and moved to Texas with his Israeli wife. After leaving Motorola, he began his own startup and then become the CEO of an Israeli chip firm, Tehuti Networks.
Moving beyond the mindset of the Israeli who thinks that to do business in America you have to be in Silicon Valley, Brish managed to convince many of his high tech colleagues that Texas is the place to be. Now, with a clear business pipeline in place, doing business with Texas can include working with partners in Mexico, which he says can be a big bonus.
There are also political and religious explanations for the mutual attraction between Texas and Israel, according to Brish: “From a political point of view, Texans think like Israel in terms of homeland security; the culture of it. We talk to Texans and they understand our problems and why we do the things we do.
“Other angles that are less known, perhaps, are that the south in general is very religious; there are Christians, and they adore Israel,” he continues.
Brish who confesses to owning a cowboy hat that he doesn’t often wear, says that joining the chamber is an affordable and informal way to network with Israeli and Texan businesses and stresses that his door and email box are always open to new ideas and proposals.