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The NJ-Israel Commission: Strengthening Economic Ties and Celebrating 75 Years of Friendship

By Dror Futter

The New Jersey-Israel Commission commemorates the 75th anniversary of the State of Israel and United States-Israel relations at the State House in Trenton on Wednesday, June 7, 2023.

The State of Israel has a well-deserved and widely known reputation as the Startup Nation. Over the last few years, however, the focus has shifted to make Israel the Scale-Up Nation. In other words, not just launching awesome companies, but building them into large, mature companies that employ many more people and become engines of economic growth.

That is a good metaphor for the rapidly developing New Jersey-Israel relationships. As Israel celebrates its 75th birthday, the ties between the two run equally as long. In fact, a recent Times of Israel article reported that an Irvington synagogue was the storing ground for weapons smuggled to the new Jewish state.

Fortunately, the ties are no longer in the shadows, as state political leaders have embraced the relationship as a true win-win. Under the leadership of Governor Phil Murphy and Secretary of State Tahesha Way, the state is actively working to scale up the relationship. In March, Choose New Jersey, the state’s leading nonprofit economic development organization, opened a new office in Tel Aviv. The New Jersey Israel Center will grow commercial, academic and cultural collaborations with Israel and support Israeli businesses looking to expand to New Jersey.

The numbers tell the two-way scale-up story:

Since the beginning of data being tracked in 2003, Israeli investment in New Jersey is valued at approximately $551 million, which has led to the creation of 1,900 jobs.

New Jersey-Israel total trade volume from 2021 to 2022 increased substantially by 11% from $1.55 billion to $1.72 billion. This is well above the average trade between New Jersey and other countries, which increased by 1.9% last year.

New Jersey exports to Israel saw growth in 2022 of 8.5% from $461 million to $500 million.

Israeli imports to New Jersey in 2022 increased by 12% from approximately $1.1 billion to $1.2 billion.

New Jersey maintained its second-place rank in attracting 25% of foreign direct investment from Israel in the Northeast.

Earlier this year, I was one of 10 new members appointed by Murphy to the New Jersey-Israel Commission. The Commission was established in 1989 to promote the development of trade, culture and educational exchanges; encourage the development of capital investment and joint business ventures; and foster a spirit of cooperation between the citizens of the State of Israel and the State of New Jersey. Commission Co-Chairs Mark Levenson and Karin Elkis bring their respective long-standing Israel-Trenton relationships to their proactive leadership roles. Executive Director Andrew Gross was appointed by Murphy in 2019. He brings to the position a deep understanding of the U.S.-Israel relationship, having previously served as director of political affairs at the Consulate General of Israel in New York.

I recently attended my first commission meeting. What I found most striking was that it highlighted that the New Jersey-Israel relationship transcends business; it is also very personal. Way spoke very warmly and emotionally as she presented an award to Acting Israel Consul General Israel Nitzan and highlighted her participation in the Commission’s Symphony of Brotherhood, a concert held during Black History Month at Newark’s Wells Cathedral Church (a former synagogue). The concert was produced by Commission member, Israeli-American Grammy Award-winning artist Miri Ben-Ari, in collaboration with world-renowned gospel performer Derrick Starks. I also had the opportunity to speak at length to Jasaun Boone, Way’s chief of staff. It was extremely moving to hear about his impressions from his first trip to Israel as part of an African American leadership delegation. The relationship also transcends political lines, as we were joined by Republican Senator Michael L. Testa Jr., who made the trip from Cape May.

The Commission even sponsors a float in the Celebrate Israel Parade. I was thrilled to ride this float to a great reception on Fifth Avenue, surrounded by a contingent of New Jersey State Troopers. We were joined by Deputy Majority Leader Assemblyman Roy Freiman.

As a venture capital and technology attorney and a lifelong New Jersey resident with deep personal ties to the State of Israel, I am very grateful to Murphy for this appointment. I am looking forward to contributing to “scaling-up” the relationship.

Given the small size of the Israeli domestic market, as Israeli companies scale they have to look abroad. The U.S. is often their foreign market of choice. I firmly believe that New Jersey is their best destination. The long list of reasons include: a high skilled workforce, high-quality educational institutions, strong government support for entrepreneurship and innovation, ready access to New York but with a lower cost of business, a large Israeli population, and frequent air service to Israel—all in a time zone with significant overlap with the Israeli work day. You could almost say it sells itself. But just in case, I am confident that the New Jersey-Israel Commission, with the support of Murphy and Way, will be working hard to get the word out.

If you want to learn more about the Commission, go to https://nj.gov/state/njic-about.shtml

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