By Tonyia Cone
Texas and Israel have more in common than an entrepreneurial, tenacious spirit. The two states’ economies significantly overlap, conducting $1 billion in business with one another each year, according to the Texas-Chamber of Commerce and partners at Israel’s Ministry of Economy.
While Texas struggles with systemic water shortage issues, Israel is the world’s leader in innovative water solutions.
Israel is also a leading innovator in cyber security, biomedical technology, and energy technology and storage.
Likewise, Houston-based Noble Energy Inc. is a major player in Israel’s blossoming natural gas sector. An operator in the Tamar offshore natural gas field, Noble discovered Leviathan, one of the world's largest undeveloped natural gas fields, off the Israeli coast in 2010. The company has sanctioned the first phase of the $3.75 billion Leviathan project, and first production is targeted for the end of 2019.
Texas and Israeli companies both bring to the table innovation that stands to benefit the other party, but doing business together is anything but straightforward. Enter the Texas-Israel Chamber of Commerce.
The mission of the Texas-Israel Chamber of Commerce – founded by senior government officials, including Rick Perry when he was governor of Texas, and business leaders – is to expand economic ties between Texas and Israel.
Toba Hellerstein, the Chamber’s executive director, said, “It's difficult to quantify goals in this way, but doubling the current business in the next 10 years would be an aggressive yet justifiable goal since the industries where business takes place occupy an enormous market.”
Hellerstein said, “Israel is essentially hitting on all of the areas where Texas is most at need for cutting edge innovation,” adding that the economic overlap is “essentially a one-for-one” exchange in terms of each state’s needs and what one can provide the other.
The Chamber serves as a traditional bilateral chamber of commerce, helping companies in Texas and Israel to penetrate eachother's markets and assisting them in finding cross-border partners, investors and customers.
Working with some of the biggest companies in Texas and Israel – including Fort Worth-based Elbit Systems of America, Dallas-based Alon USA, Noble Energy, San Antonio-based H-E-B Grocery Company, Dallas-based Texas Instruments, Petah Tikva-based Rabin Medical Center, and Lod, Israel-based Shikun and Binui, just to name a few – the Texas-Israel Chamber works with companies with operations in Israel and the Lone Star State, not just those headquartered in one of the locations.
The Texas-Israel Chamber of Commerce also advocates for companies, helping them navigate legal and regulatory processes with every level of the United States governments.
“For every sector, Texas and Israel are very close ideologically, but they're of different countries, so they have different ways of managing and regulating resources. So even if you have really great technological offerings from Texas to Israel or vice versa, being able to navigate those environments in order for the other society to leverage them, that's the real trick, is the accessibility,” Hellerstein said.
Companies benefit from working with the nonprofit organization because when Hellerstein maximizes her relationships with government officials, it is clear that her conversations are in the spirit of strategic coordination between allied states.
“They know that when we’re talking about a regulatory difficulty, I’m doing it in the spirit of making sure that our states are close and our countries are close. It's a lot easier for me to get that meeting and talk about a thorny issue than it would be for a company that's ostensibly only trying to advance their own particular product,” she explained.
What sets the Texas-Israel Chamber of Commerce apart from other chambers is that the organization’s laying of groundwork for greater economic exchange is ideologically driven.
“It's making sure that both the state of Texas and the state of Israel are close in a strategic way and using those partnerships to build up economic interdependence such that the Texas economy relies on Israeli technology, which helps Texas industry and American industry lobby for pro-Israeli policies in Washington,” she said.
“We're supporting Israel for economic interdependence and it's really an organization that works for economic diplomacy, which is the only organization like this in the U.S.”
Three days after Texas’ anti-BDS legislation was signed in early May, the Texas-Israel Chamber of Commerce, Israeli Ministry of Economy and the Meadows Center for Water and the Environment held a conference on Israel-Texas water collaboration at Texas State University.
The conference, which addressed how Texas can benefit from Israeli innovative water solutions, featured senior Israeli and Texas officials, two of the leading water experts in Texas and a delegation from eight Israeli water companies.
“This is a significant event for the water industry, and the first of its kind in the state of Texas,” said Shay Luvshis, Israeli economic consul. "It also signifies a new page in Israeli-Texas relations."
Emphasizing his aggressive pursuit of Texas-Israel business initiatives and his relaunch of the Texas-Israel Exchange council, Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller gave the keynote speech.
"Texas and Israel are not only friends, they are core economic partners, and the partnership between Texas-Israel Chamber of Commerce and the Ministry of Economy plays a critical role in allowing us to improve cooperation between our states," Miller said.
Hellerstein explained that the timing of the conference was not a coincidence.
“It was an important pairing of that law – the law is about discouraging companies from engaging in the boycott divestment sanctions movement – and our work,” Hellerstein said, explaining that not only should companies avoid boycotting and divesting because it is anti-Semitic and anti-Israeli, but those who do miss out on major business opportunities and cutting edge technology.
“It's a leadership position that every Texas government official needs to take you cannot be pro-Texan and anti-Israeli. Those two things don’t live in the same space,” Hellerstein said.
A rapidly growing organization, the Texas-Israel Chamber of Commerce is being reshaped to become a truly statewide organization that represents all of the ideologies, political affiliations, sectors and geographies that Texas has to offer, Hellerstein explained, in order to be a truly strong and potent organization that represents the state.
Recently identified by the Israeli Foreign Ministry and the Ministry of Economy as one of their primary economic partners in the United States, the Texas-Israel Chamber of Commerce is poised to become the anchor of the relationship between the two countries, said Hellerstein, who plans to establish a Doing Business in Israel summit within the next two years.
“It doesn't exist anywhere and I want it to exist in Texas,” she added, explaining that she envisions companies from all over the United States and the rest of the world gathering for a large-scale conference with seminars and presentations on cyber security, water, energy, biomedical technology and other overlapping economic sectors.
“No other place in the world understands how important Israel is than Texas,” Hellerstein said. “All we have to do is make sure they know the best way that they can support Israel is in promoting business. That's such a special, precious thing that you don’t find elsewhere.”