By: Commissioner Randy Boyd
Governor Haslam’s trade mission to Israel exceeded all expectations. Since the business delegates paid their own way, this was one of the least expensive trade missions the state has conducted, so getting a great return on investment was inevitable. One of my goals was to come back with twenty connections that could provide value back to our state and our business partners and that any one of which could justify the trip. Instead, we had many times that number. It was successful on so many levels.
First, the relationships built between the 18 business delegates will bring value to our state for years to come. There was great value in the discussions and possible partnerships discussed among the team itself. This dynamic group would have created value wherever it gathered, but immersing them in one of the most creative, innovative economies in the world poured fuel to the fire.
Second, the delegates had countless introductions to potential business partners. It was exciting each night when we would all gather, usually at another networking function, and have the delegates come up to me and share an exciting new opportunity they had found. In addition, our TNECD team made numerous contacts with businesses eager to explore setting up operations in Tennessee. Many of the delegates recognized key verticals, especially defense and cyber security, that would warrant other smaller, specialized missions, and these are already being discussed. I will be disappointed if several years from now thousands of new jobs in Tennessee aren’t created as a result of this trip.
Third, we were inspired. Israel excels in creating start-ups and is often referred to as the “Start-Up Nation”. We attended many events with incubators, venture funds, and other organizations that shared their best practices. We also learned about their incredible successes in tech transfer, an area where we need to get much, much better. There is a tech transfer conference this December that those in that field will be invited to attend. We were also inspired by Israel’s technical college system, ORT, which we visited. Over 65 percent of their students graduate in STEM fields, and we are now discussing partnerships and collaboration between ORT and our Colleges of Applied Technology.
Fourth, this was a great opportunity to tell the Tennessee story and build the Tennessee brand. U.S. Ambassador to Israel Daniel Shapiro hosted us one night at his residence and over 100 guests showed up to welcome us and learn more about our state. After Governor Haslam’s compelling pitch about doing business in Tennessee, our delegation spent the rest of the night exchanging business cards with people wanting to explore partnerships with our state. Everywhere we went, we told the Tennessee story, and now hundreds of leaders in Israel have a very positive impression of our state where before they often knew little if anything about us.
Lastly, Governor Haslam had the opportunity to meet both Prime Minister Netanyahu and former President Shimon Peres. I attended the meeting with Mr. Peres in which he told us to “Always dream big!”. We will continue to dream big for Tennessee and for the increasingly valuable partnership between our state and the State of Israel.