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Stew Lilker’s

Columbia County Observer

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Florida-Israel: Trade Between Sunshine State & Jewish State Booming

flattened globe showing route between Florida & Israel

TALLAHASSEE –  Culture and politics are certainly on the agenda, but Florida’s trade mission to Israel will primarily focus on growing the state’s economic relationship with Israeli agriculture, aerodynamics, medical marijuana, drone technology, military and life sciences industries.

And make no mistake, that economic relationship has been increasingly lucrative for both the Sunshine State and the Jewish state: Israel is Florida’s fifth-largest international trade partner, up from 13th less than a decade ago.

According to Enterprise Florida, in 2017, state businesses exported more than $282 million in manufactured goods to Israel – $3.86 billion since 1996 – while Israeli businesses are finding Florida an attractive place to establish footholds in the U.S., with easy access to Central and South America markets.

With a gross domestic product [GDP] that topped $1 trillion in 2018 making it the world’s 17th largest economy, according to US News & World Report, Florida officials have cultivated economic ties with Israel – the world’s 29th largest economy with a projected 2019 GDP of $390 billion – for more than two decades.

90 Member Delegation

Gov. Ron DeSantis will continue the effort initiated by former Gov. Jeb Bush as he leads a 90-member delegation of state officials, business executives, academics and religious leaders on a six-day kibbutz with Israeli business and government leaders that began Saturday in Tel Aviv and ends May 31 in Jerusalem.

Florida Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried, the first Jewish woman to serve on Florida’s Cabinet, arrived in Israel in advance of the delegation earlier last week to lay groundwork and tour businesses that could benefit Florida and vice-versa.

She told Israeli media that her mission is not to “sell” Florida fruit and vegetables, but “to bring stuff back into our state – the technology and innovation.”

Israel has “some of the most advanced technology and research for agriculture, for citrus greening, for blue-green algae, for water technology, for security, for medical marijuana,” she said. “There’s no place in the entire world that has such type of innovation and approaches to things.”

Fried met Thursday with iAngels, a Tel Aviv woman-owned venture capital firm that specializes in tech driven solutions to crop disease and farm management, and toured the Volcani Center, which is the research arm of the Israeli Ministry of Agriculture that studies plant, animal, food sciences and agricultural engineering, before visiting with Tevel Aerobotics, a startup that develops airborne drone harvesters.

She also has plans to tour a kibbutz specializing in dairy technology, a hydroponics farm and a medical marijuana company.

“I’m thrilled to be in Israel learning about innovations on agriculture and citrus, water efficiency, cannabis, and more,” she said. “We’re going to bring home ideas and best practices from the Middle East’s only democracy and one of the world’s leading nations on technology and research.”

Looking for Solutions for FL's Environmental Issues

The Jerusalem Post said Florida officials were interested in “connecting” academic institutions in Florida and Israel to study solutions for the state’s environmental issues, including red tide.

“We have a lot of researchers from universities who will be meeting with Israeli researchers for things like water quality and water infrastructure,” DeSantis confirmed Thursday. “Israel does that better than anybody.”

Florida is one of 33 states that have cooperative agreements with Israel. During the trip, DeSantis is expected to sign an updated version of the 2013 Florida-Israel Memorandum of Understanding, which promotes collaborative research, development and commercialization of projects related to space development.

Included in the state’s $91 billion Fiscal Year 2020 budget – which goes into effect July 1 – is a $1 million allocation for Space Florida, the state’s aerospace agency, to work with Israeli companies in research, development and commercialization of aerospace and life-science projects.

Also included in the budget is $400,000 for the Florida-Israel Business Accelerator, an economic development initiative of the Tampa Jewish Community Center.

Florida businesses also have extensive ties to the Israeli military. In 2015, according to Enterprise Florida, state business received nearly $70 million in foreign military financing in providing U.S. military aid to Israel. Among those companies are Airlift Technologies International in Milton, Sonicare Solutions, Inc. in Boynton Beach, Powerlogics, Inc. in Tampa, and Lockheed Martin in Lakeland.

This piece appeared in the The Center Square and was reprinted by the Columbia County Observer with permission or license.

Layout and graphic added by the Observer; composite image by the Observer. Map: CIA

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