The American Israel Business Connector celebrated a year of new Israeli investments in Georgia, significant cross-border mergers and a newfound organizational focus at its annual awards gala May 28.
The former American-Israel chamber (now known as Conexx) also celebrated stronger ties with the City of Atlanta and Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport at the Eagle Star Awards, held this year at Georgia Power headquarters. The city and airport (owned and operated by the city) received the community partner award.
In March, Conexx partnered with Mayor Kasim Reed on a trade mission focused on showcasing Atlanta’s prowess in the cybersecurity sector. The mission, which included representatives from the Metro Atlanta Chamber, the Georgia Department of Economic Development and other organizations, followed a trade and investment mission last year by Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal.
The March trip took local chief information officers to Israel to learn about innovations in cybersecurity, a segment in which Atlanta is aiming to stake its claim internationally. Participating companies in the 33-person mission to Beersheba, Tel Aviv and the Atlanta sister city of Ra’anana included NCR Corp., Delta Air Lines Inc., Carter’s Inc., Coca-Cola Co. and more.
Ben Fink, who will become chairman of Conexx at the end of October, said Mr. Reed was undaunted on the mission, holding his own even when called to follow remarks by the inventor of the Iron Dome missile defense system, which shoots incoming rockets out of the air.
“He carried the flag for Atlanta and not just Atlanta but the state of Georgia, as well as the entire Southeast region, admirably,” Mr. Fink said of the mayor.
A highlight of the trip was seeing the innovation ecosystem at Ben Gurion University in the Negev, Atlanta airport General Manager Miguel Southwell said as he stood in for Mr. Reed, who had planned to attend the gala but was delayed at the airport in Chicago due to weather.
“Seeing so much talent only confirmed that we have to work with these young entrepreneurs and bring them to the city of Atlanta, a place where they can bring and build their dreams and their companies,” Mr. Southwell said.
That will happen Aug. 20-21, as the law firm Baker Donelson’s Atlanta office hosts a forum on cybersecurity that will welcome some of the same Israeli companies visited by Atlanta officials on the trip.
The airport, for its part, has made its own contributions to the relationship between Atlanta and Israel, particularly through information exchange, according to Conexx. Over the last year, airport leaders traveled to the ACI North America homeland security conference in Israel and hosted an Israeli logistics delegation visiting Atlanta in concert with the local consulate.
Mr. Southwell said the city is a strong supporter of Israel, praising the country’s ability to stand up to adversity.
“The Israeli narrative is one of strong families, constant resilience, unwavering courage, undaunted determination and state of the art innovation when confronted with constant threats to the right to exist,” he said.
The gala also focused on business achievements as Conexx tries to branch out from its regional roots to become the “premier business gateway” between U.S. and Israeli companies.
Winning the deal of the year was 3D Systems, a South Carolina-based provider of 3D printers, which purchased two Israeli firms for a combined $207 million.
U.S. company of the year was Alpharetta-based EndoChoice, which makes gastrointestinal imaging equipment that provides a wider field of vision, leading to what it says is better detection of polyps in colonoscopies. The company, which attributes a 2013 merger with Israel’s Peer Medical Ltd. as a major step in its evolution, has built revenues to $61 million in seven years, on which it lost $53.6 million last year. EndoChoice is slated for a June 5 IPO.
Israeli company of the year was ZIM American Integrated Shipping Services Co., the U.S. arm of the Israeli shipping giant, which sits in the top 10 shipping companies worldwide and employs 5,000 people globally. The company recently brought the biggest ship ever into the Port of Savannah. The ZIM Tianjin is 1,145 long: if stood on end, it would be taller than the Empire State Building.
These interactions are indicative of how Conexx is seeking to link Israel and the Southeast, chief operating officer Guy Tessler said in a year-in-review speech.
He noted that the organization’s rebranding last year is helping it resonate better with startup companies and shed the regional moniker, but it’s not a cure-all. This year, Conexx has worked to bring in blockbuster speakers to member events, deepen ties with Israel through trade missions, host its first golf tournament and create “fundable projects” to sustain its operations.
“While working on our brand, we make sure that it does not detract from substance,” Mr. Tessler said.
Learn more at www.conexx.org.
Click here to learn more about Baker Donelson’s cybersecurity conference in August.