Above: Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam (right) visits the Rambam Health Care Campus in Haifa and its director of medical and research development, Karl Skorecki, last summer.

When Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam led state officials, local leaders and their spouses on a business trip to Israel, his goal was to strengthen ties between his state and Israel.

“The state of Tennessee is strong in health care. We went over to see if there are some potential partnerships or investments that could benefit the state long term,” Haslam said.

Conexx facilitated the trip, which included Commissioner Randy Boyd and International Director Leslee Alexander from the Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development. Alexander oversees bilateral trade activities, including inbound and outbound missions.

“Working closely with Conexx helped forge a relationship with Israel,” Alexander said. “Their connectivity to the Israeli ecosystem and mutual respect is strong.”

The delegation was composed of 18 leaders from Tennessee businesses, including high-tech biomedical companies, doctors and members of the Jewish community. The group held meetings with a variety of stakeholders and the Israeli Chamber of Commerce.

Haslam and Boyd met with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, rang the bell at the Tel Aviv Stock Exchange and met with representatives from Israeli government.

“Hundreds of relationships were started from this trip,” Alexander said.

One outcome is the relationship Tennessee officials formed with the Israel-U.S. Binational Industrial Research and Development Foundation, whom delegates will visit in 2016.

The Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development “began exploration of the Israeli business system a couple years ago. The governor’s intent was to establish a strong relationship between Israel and Tennessee. The mission and relationship outcomes symbolize a step in this direction. It shows investment in Israel and vice versa,” Alexander said.

In early June, the LaunchTN 3686 annual accelerator conference is expected to host Israeli companies along with startup companies from the Southeast. The two-day conference is held in Nashville

“This is a great chance to tell the Tennessee story to Israeli businesses large and small. Israel has become known as the startup nation due to the enormous amount of entrepreneurial activity happening here, and we have formed a lot of relationships that can be mutually beneficial,” Haslam said.

Instrumental in maintaining the state-to-state relationship is the Jewish Federation of Nashville and Middle Tennessee. Well-traveled Federation members made mission guests feel at ease.

Alexander said, “When you travel, you never are sure what culture will be like. There was an openness and friendliness of the Israeli people and communities, and it was well received by the group. The trip was life-changing for so many people.”

Israel holds a special place in the hearts of those who visit, she added. “We heard real, candid stories. It was intimate. And that’s rare for a 30-person group.”

Alexander plans to attend and accept the Eagle Star Award on behalf of Boyd and the state of Tennessee.