Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp returns this week from leading a delegation to Israel designed to drum up business from a nation whose economic impact on the state belies its small size.
With fewer people than Georgia (9 million), Israel’s goods trade with the state is relatively small at $333 million (No. 32 on its list of trading partners). But it remains a major exporter of transformative technologies created by startups that often end up commercializing their ideas in the U.S.
Many Israeli-founded firms have used Georgia as a gateway into the market, putting their corporate headquarters in the U.S. while retaining the brains of their operations back home. Many have been purchased by larger firms or have gone public. Large Georgia companies from Southern Co. to Coca-Cola Co., Novelis and beyond have used outposts in Israel or collaborations within the so-called “Startup Nation” to supplement their global innovation platforms.
The Georgia Department of Economic Development alos counts 21 Israeli companies employing more than 1,000 people in the state, including a few that Mr. Kemp visited: countertop manufacturer Caesarstone, software firm JFrog and AlphaOmega, which provides medical devices for monitoring neural activity.
The governor had planned the mission for May 2020, but it was postponed when the COVID-19 upended global travel. While department officials travel abroad frequently — and Mr. Kemp traveled to Davos, Switzerland, for the World Economic Forum in January — the mission is his first since the start of his second term.
The governor also visited the Israeli operations of Georgia-based companies like Gulfstream, the private jet manufacturer which runs a longstanding partnership Israeli Aerospace Corp., and L.P. Pilgrimage, a faith-based tourism company.
While the trip included meetings with prospects and existing investors, it also featured sit-downs with Israeli leaders, leading some to see the trip as focused on burnishing the governor’s foreign-policy credentials in the event he decides to seek national office in 2024 or beyond.
The governor spent about an hour Sunday with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, discussing economic issues, foreign policy, the threat of Iran’s nuclear program and a stalled bill in the Georgia legislature that would have defined anti-Semitism in accordance outlined by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance. Mr. Netanyahu brought up the bill in the meeting with Mr. Kemp, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s Greg Bluestein, who traveled with the delegation.
In a tweet, Mr. Kemp said one of the “most moving” stops on the trip was a visit to Yad Vashem, The World Holocaust Remembrance Center, where he and First Lady Marty Kemp participated in a wreath-laying ceremony.
Mr. Kemp also met with Israeli President Isaac Herzog and Foreign Minister Eli Cohen; the Georgia delegation was accompanied by Anat Sultan Dadon, consul general of Israel to the Southeast U.S., based in Atlanta.
The governor was joined in Israel by a group of legislators along with Georgia Department of Economic Development Commissioner Pat Wilson, Deputy Commissioner for Trade Mary Waters and Protocol Director Nico Wijnberg and Coryn Marsik.
According to the department, the delegation attended a SelectUSA business reception at the U.S. Embassy with 20 companies looking at expanding into the United States.
The group also witnessed a demonstration of the Iron Dome, an air-defense system that intercepts has been instrumental in protecting Israeli cities by intercepting rocket attacks from Gaza.
On the cultural front, they visited the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, built over the site where Jesus was traditionally thought to have been crucified and buried before his resurrection.
Mr. Kemp’s predecessor, Gov. Nathan Deal traveled to Israel in 2014, while then-Gov. Sonny Perdue went in 2005.
The state has had a trade and investment office in Israel since 1994.