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Seeking jobs and insight with longtime trade partner

Published:   |   Updated: March 21, 2013 at 07:28 AM

Busy Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn is doing the city a favor to spend the next six days in Israel.

No, it's not that we're better off without you, Mr. Mayor. Israel is an important business partner for the state and region. Much can be gained by strengthening the link between the two cultures and business worlds.

This is no junket. Buckhorn is paying for his part of the trip with his own campaign funds, which he donated to the city's travel budget. Any success he has promoting good will and opening doors to more trade and investment will come at no significant cost to taxpayers.

Why Israel? Because it's a great place to fish for jobs. Former Gov. Charlie Crist made Israel his first foreign trade mission, and Gov. Rick Scott is going there next month. The governor of Virginia was in Israel over the weekend and said he hoped to soon announce that Israeli firms would be expanding in his state.

Florida has competition, but it also has advantages that Buckhorn and Scott can make sure are understood.

When an Israeli company opens a branch in Florida it gets two continents for the price of one, says Chaim Shacham, Israel's consul general to Florida and Puerto Rico.

In a recent visit to this newspaper, Shacham said a Florida location could give an Israeli company access to the U.S. market as well as to South America. Tampa's busy seaport and airport are evidence that his observation is correct.

About 45 Israeli companies have branches in Florida, and with a little encouragement, more are expected to come. Expansion here would be good for both Florida and Israel.

"Israel is good at innovation, not so good at manufacturing," Shacham told us. "Land and labor in Israel are expensive."

The Tampa delegation includes City Attorney Jim Shimberg and City Councilman Harry Cohen, plus members of the business and Tampa Jewish community, including Herb Swarzman and Jack Ross.

They and Buckhorn will be trying to sell Florida, both as a business and tourist destination, while looking for opportunities for Florida businesses to expand there.

The United States and Israel have a long history of friendship and cooperation. Twenty-six years ago, when the United States signed its first free-trade agreement, it was with Israel.

Both countries have democratic governments supporting vigorous free markets within a system of fair and predictable laws. Florida has special appeal to Israel because of the large Jewish population here.

But despite the similarities, there is much Florida's business and political leaders can learn from Israel. Buckhorn and crew can ask how Israel encourages its young executives to push back against management and how it seamlessly welcomes military veterans into the business world.

It can look into the question posed in the book "Start-Up Nation" by Dan Senor and Saul Singer: "How is it that Israel — a country of 7.1 million people, only 60 years old, surrounded by enemies, in a constant state of war since its founding, with no natural resources — produces more start-up companies than large, peaceful, and stable nations like Japan, China, India, Korea, Canada, and the United Kingdom?"

The main purpose of the trip will be to tell the Florida story, with strong emphasis on the Tampa part of it. There is no state or region anywhere more serious about welcoming job-creating investment.

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