American construction and real estate entrepreneurs know that there are huge business opportunities waiting for them in rapidly expanding countries like Dubai, Abu Dhabi and Beijing. But a founding member of America’s top construction law firm, Robert S. Peckar, from Peckar & Abramson understood that the Americans he worked with knew very little about the Israel that he loved.

Three years ago, Peckar who is Jewish, organized a trip to Israel. He brought 10 of America’s most powerful construction business CEOs and leaders — all non-Jewish — to Israel on a Washington-based program called Project Interchange (an Institute of American Jewish Committee), of which he is the vice-chair.

“Americans are building in the Middle East, and even though the Arab boycott was supposedly officially terminated, in terms of perception in the US construction business, it is still in effect,” Peckar tells ISRAEL21c.

At the very most, Peckar was hoping to break some stereotypes and educate his non-Jewish peers on the complicated cultural, political and business realities that Israelis working in the same industry face. What he couldn’t predict is that one of the group participants, Marvin Suomi, the president of KUD International in Los Angeles would enter into a $250 million construction deal to develop a new technology park at Ben Gurion University, in Beersheva with Israeli partners.

KUD is a subsidiary of Kajima Corporation, the third largest construction company in the world. The deal was signed recently, and Suomi plans to be back in Israel this month.

Through KUD, Israeli engineers and architects will work together with American ones, in an Israeli office, and as far as Peckar knows, there has been no similar joint project like it to take place in Israel.

Telecom, high-tech and the IDF

When completed, the new Advanced Technologies Park will be over 1 million square feet in size, and is expected to house companies such as Deutsche Telecom, as well as start-up companies taking advantage of research from Ben Gurion University. An interesting development, Peckar points out, is that the Israel Defense Forces plans on utilizing one third of the space for R&D.

This will be the first technology park situated on a university campus in Israel and is expected to dramatically change the face of the poor socio-economic situation in Beersheba, a development town. “This is a critically important project for the State of Israel,” Peckar told ISRAEL21c while in Israel with a group of American women CEOs, here to learn about development opportunities in Israel. “The Negev region is a national priority for the State of Israel. It is the nation’s heartland and furthest away from all the political ‘trouble’,” he says.

When completed, the new Advanced Technologies Park is expected to introduce at least 10,000 new jobs to the city. This will have a tremendous impact on the city. Currently, people who decide to live in Beersheba (where the price of a home is much cheaper than the central region), often end up having to travel to Tel Aviv every day to work. “The university has a problem,” admits Peckar. “It’s best and brightest have extremely limited opportunities.”

Transcending dollars and cents

The new 150-acre Advanced Technologies Park at Ben Gurion University is expected to solve that problem. To be completed in stages, the first stage is expected to start construction in about a year and a half. What’s most exciting for Peckar, a principal investor in the project, is the full support they’ve received from all the Israeli Ministries, and the Municipality of Beersheva, a partner in the project, along with Ben Gurion University and KUD International.

The new project, Peckar needs to clarify, is no handout. Its partners see the business opportunities in Israel along with the important social aspect that needs fulfilled. These kinds of projects are the ones Suomi from KUD likes best, he says. “For Marvin from KUD, to participate in this project was like an invitation to heaven. He specifically chooses development activities where everyone benefits from the project. Marvin’s interests transcend the dollar and cents aspect of business.”