Opinion: Michigan should forge alliances with Israeli industries
For a century Detroit has turned out millions of the vehicles that have allowed Americans to commute and explore freely. Now, the Motor City is receiving a boost from a country 6,000 miles away: Israel. Recently, Ford Motor Company’s CEO was in Israel to inaugurate a new research and development center in Tel Aviv.
The facility will be a critical hub in the automaker’s endeavor to incorporate more smart technology into its vehicles, and to push for ever-safer cars. Ford joins General Motors as well as all of the global major car manufacturers in tapping Israel’s growing automotive tech ecosystem. While the auto sector is an important one linking Michigan and Israel, there are myriad other areas where our two economies are connected.
From the entrepreneurs in the Upper Peninsula to the executives at Detroit’s Big Three, Michiganians and Israelis are developing and commercializing technology in new and important ways. I visited Israel with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and met with business leaders, investors and commercial heavyweights, and returned convinced that there are more bridges we can build to Israel.
Michigan has one of the largest and strongest economies in the United States. We’ve built our reputation on bending steel and melting aluminum, demonstrating that American excellence comes from grit and hard work. We’ve already had a great few years; our GDP has grown, outpacing most other states and rising steadily. As we look to sustain this progress, Israel can play an important role.
The Michigan-Israel Business Accelerator, for instance, is helping startups here connect more easily with new ideas and capital. We all know the role startups can play in a growing economy — initiatives like these will help ensure that Michiganians can take direct advantage of burgeoning opportunities.
Michigan exported almost $200 million worth of goods to Israel in 2018, and the state has received $650 million in procurement contracts from the Israel Defense Forces. Even with fewer than 10 million citizens, Israel has become Michigan’s 29th largest international trade partner.
Additionally, Michigan faces some challenges — challenges that Israel is uniquely suited to help with. Michigan is the Great Lakes State. We care about water quality. Given Israel’s desert climate, they’ve faced their share of water shortages. Over the past few decades, Israeli research companies have become experts in water purification and conservation. Israeli firms have even begun partnering with Flint to help restore water quality.
Just as Michigan has become synonymous with automotive manufacturing, Tel Aviv has become a hub of technological innovation. Increasingly, new tech is becoming a standard feature in motor vehicles of all types. Whether it’s developing advanced monitors for the dashboard, motion sensors to help with tight parking spaces, or in-car Wi-Fi, Tel Aviv is becoming an increasingly important part of the auto industry’s future. Conversely, Israel does not have a strong auto manufacturing sector, but its success in "Industry 4.0" — advanced automation, machine learning, and big data gathering, among others — make Israel an ideal partner to ensure that “Made in Michigan” remains the gold standard.
From agribusiness to travel and tourism to manufacturing, there are great job opportunities for Michiganians to welcome visitors from Israel and to forge strong and mutually beneficial alliances with leading industries in Israel.
Rich Studley is president and CEO of the Michigan Chamber of Commerce.