The crowd at the Conexx gala stayed to the end of the night, rising to their feet when the honored guest took the podium.
Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal probably had something to do with the record attendance at the Israeli business group’s annual event. He took home the Tom Glaser Leadership Award — named after the organization’s longtime president — for his efforts to deepen the already-strong business ties with the country known as the “Startup Nation.”
Mr. Deal, nearing the end of his second term, praised Conexx for being the “primary mover and organizer” of a major Georgia cybersecurity delegation to Israel he headlined in 2014.
But that trip had other benefits besides sharing best practices around technology. It helped Georgia net an Israeli quartz countertop manufacturer, Caesarstone, which has set up a factory in Savannah. (Incidentally, Mr. Deal and his wife, Sandra, used the company’s products in a kitchen remodel.)
Caesarstone is one example of how Israel’s 50-plus companies in Georgia create jobs and build wealth by scaling in the U.S. market, whether it be in technology or manufacturing.
The winner of the Conexx Israeli Company of the Year, for instance, was Tosaf, which makes plastic and chemical additives used in a variety of industries. The company’s U.S. headquarters is in Charlotte, N.C., but it also has as small operation in south Georgia to supply the Caesarstone factory.
That’s just one byproduct of the 23-year ties Georgia has had with Israel through its economic development office in Jerusalem, Mr. Deal said.
“It has been a very long and profitable relationship,” said the governor, who praised ZIM, an Israeli shipping line, for leading the way in container counts through Savannah last year.
These stories showed how Conexx has stayed true to the role that it claimed for itself upon its founding 25 years ago as the American-Israel Chamber of Commerce Southeast: growing the U.S.-Israel relationship through personal and tangible business ties.
Those who have traveled with Conexx testified to its ability to connect Atlantans with influencers and innovators on its “business expeditions,” which stop at incubators, research centers and offices of companies like MobileEye, on the tip of everyone’s tongue during the event thanks to the recent announcement that it would be bought by Intel for $15 billion.
“The natural resource Israeli has is brilliance — absolute brilliance,” said David Cole, vice president of brokerage at the Atlanta office of NAI Brannen Goddard, who experienced Israel with Conexx in 2015.
That’s why Southern Co., Conexx’s U.S. Company of the Year, has created a strategic relationship with the country, said Tom Fanning, chairman and CEO. The Atlanta-based utility is learning from Israel on issues like alternative energies and securing physical infrastructure from the threat of cyber attacks, he said.
“When you think about the confluence of energy policy and national security and economics, the relationship between America and Israel is ever more important,” said Mr. Fanning, who chairs the Electricity Subsector Coordinating Council, a liaison organization between the power sector and the federal government.
He said countries should not necessarily focus on independence, but resilience, when it comes to collaboration to fend off big challenges like cyber-terrorism.
“I use this phrase: Energy security breeds national security breeds economic security,” Mr. Fanning said while accepting the award. Paul Bowers, CEO of Southern Co. subsidiary Georgia Power, traveled with the governor on the 2014 cybersecurity mission.
Benjamin Fink, a shareholder with the Atlanta law firm of Berman Fink Van Horn P.C., said Conexx supports Israel’s security in the world by bolstering its economy through interaction with the U.S. market.
Stephanie Abrams, a meteorologist and Weather Channel anchor, emceed the event and presented a video “forecast” of the Israeli economy, showing its bright future through an overview of its innovation assets and research institutions. She also pointed out Coca-Cola Co.’s BRIDGE program, which aims to give the company “first-mover advantage” in connecting with Israeli entrepreneurs and innovators.
The winner of the Deal of the Year award was NICE Ltd.’s acquisition of customer analytics provider Nexidia, a company born at Georgia Tech, for $135 million. NICE is based in Ra’anana, Atlanta’s Israeli sister city.