Georgia’s formal presence with an economic office in Israel goes back 23 years, exactly one-third of the existence of the modern Jewish state.
The office resulted from an economic connection launched two years earlier when Gov. Zell Miller signed the Georgia-Israel Exchange Agreement in 1992, the same year Conexx was born as the American-Israel Chamber of Commerce in the Southeast. That legislation was “long on platitudes and short on details,” Tom Glaser told the 16th annual Conexx Gala on Wednesday, May 3, but it set the stage for what has developed into one of Israel’s strongest relationships with any state.
“Our partnership with Conexx is strong, balanced and forward-thinking,” Israeli Consul General Judith Varnai Shorer said during the gala at the Twelve Atlantic Station, which event chairman Adam Feinberg said was the largest and most successful appearance of what used to be called the Eagle Star Awards.
The gala served as a simultaneous celebration of Israel’s 69th birthday, of the five award winners (including the Atlanta Jewish Times), and of Gov. Nathan Deal’s two terms as governor, which will end in 20 months.
Deal’s leadership has enabled Southeastern companies working with Israeli partners to flourish and helped Conexx fulfill its crucial function of providing “the kind of foundation where people can come in and really create a better life for everyone they touch,” said Thomas Fanning, the CEO of Southern Co., which received the award for U.S. Company of the Year.
“I want to personally thank Governor Deal for his unwavering support for the state of Israel,” said Ben Fink, the board chair of Conexx: America Israel Business Connector.
Most speakers during the night sent some superlatives Deal’s way, including Glaser, Conexx’s founding executive director, who presented the governor the Tom Glaser Leadership Award.
Glaser said he suggested when Deal was the governor-elect in 2010 that he follow the examples of predecessors Miller, Roy Barnes and Sonny Perdue and lead a business mission to Israel, and Deal said it was something he hoped to do.
In 2014, he made good on that conversation by leading such a mission, which included Paul Bowers, the CEO of Southern Co. subsidiary Georgia Power.
Deal thanked Conexx for being the primary mover and organizer of that trip, which he said has helped keep Georgia and Israel on the right track together.
“Israel has been a good trading partner,” Deal said, citing the example of Haifa-based Zim, which he said is No. 5 among container shipping companies in using Georgia ports. “It’s been good for the state of Georgia, and the presence of Israeli companies here and the trading relationship that we have for those that are in your native country have helped us to achieve that goal of being called the No. 1 state in the country in which to do business.”
Conexx President Guy Tessler said such business relationships help secure Israel’s future by strengthening its economy, but Fanning said the United States is a big beneficiary as well, in part because of Israel’s leading position in countering cyber and physical terrorism.
The combination of energy, national security and economic factors makes the U.S.-Israel relationship increasingly important, Fanning said, and helps Southern Co. and others give Americans and Israelis hope “to be able to create an economic environment where we can grow and thrive and actually make lives better.”
Besides Deal and Southern Co., Conexx recognized three award winners:
• Israeli Company of the Year — Tosaf, which makes additives and colors for the plastics industry at plants around the world, including Bessemer City, N.C.
• Community Partner — Atlanta Jewish Times.
• Deal of the Year — Ra’anana-based NICE’s $135 million purchase of Nexidia in the business analytics industry.
The biggest winner of the night, however, may have been Steve Horn, a partner with accounting firm Williams, Benator & Libby and Conexx’s treasurer. His ticket was picked in the night’s raffle, earning him a luxurious trip for two to Israel.
“As Conexx honors the best in Southeast-Israel business, it’s important to remember the economic value that Conexx as an organization brings to the Southeast,” Tessler said. “We have facilitated relationships and interactions valued in the billions, ultimately supporting the economy of the Southeast and Israel. The awardees at this year’s gala illustrate the importance of continued strong ties as a way to create prosperity. There is so much more we hope to do.”