By Ben Fink | Guest Columnist

The following firsthand report from the March business mission to Israel was the April leadership message for Conexx and comes from the organization’s chairman-elect.

IS-Conexx Ben Fink

Ben Fink

Spending a week in Israel with Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed, Conexx, the Metro Atlanta Chamber of Commerce and various members of the Georgia Department of Economic Development has given me an even greater appreciation for the importance of the work of Conexx. Our mission is to “connect people to Israel through the vehicle of business,” and the recent cybersecurity mission truly put this mission into action.

Along with Reed and the other economic development professionals, senior business leaders from Coca-Cola, IBM, Capgemini, Southern Co., Carter’s, AT&T and NCR participated in the mission. Most of the 33 delegates on the trip had never been to Israel. Everyone returned with a highly positive view of Israel, which they will likely share with their friends, families and colleagues. For this reason alone, even if nothing more comes of the mission, it will have been a success.

However, much more is likely to come out of the mission, including significant business relationships between and among these companies and government agencies and some of the companies they met in Israel.

Israel, Atlanta, Georgia and the Southeast are all on the forefront of cybersecurity technologies. While Atlanta is home to more than 100 companies in the cybersecurity space, the number of cybersecurity companies in Israel is too numerous to count. Many of these companies are fueled by graduates of the Israel Defense Forces’ elite cybersecurity units. The cybersecurity ecosystem created by the combination of private industry, the IDF, Israel’s top universities and the Israeli government is truly unique.

The mission provided an incredible opportunity to learn about Israel’s cybersecurity ecosystem, which has clearly become a hotbed for cutting-edge innovation in the global market. While the synergies between the Southeastern United States and the state of Israel are many, this is an area where there is a tremendous opening to generate significant business opportunities that will benefit both Israel and our city, state and region. The mission provided a catalyst for these opportunities to take shape.

Reed carried the flag for Atlanta and our region admirably. He is a smart, thoughtful and genuine person (traits not often found in politicians these days). He had multiple opportunities at CyberTech 2015, at Ben-Gurion University, at a town-hall meeting in Be’er Sheva, and at a meeting of the Federation of Israeli Chambers of Commerce to tout the benefits of doing business in Atlanta and the Southeast.

Reed’s eloquent remarks, along with those of Jorge Fernandez of the Metro Atlanta Chamber and Mary Waters of the Georgia Department of Economic Development, continued to raise awareness of Atlanta, Georgia and the Southeast in Israel in ways that will have benefits for our region.

Israeli companies already employ thousands of people in Atlanta and the Southeast, and at least in part because of the mission, that number will increase significantly in the coming years. There is no question the mission helped establish Atlanta as a top destination for Israel-based companies that are innovating in the technology industry, including the cybersecurity industry.

In many ways, the mission highlighted the importance of the work being done at Conexx. American companies can benefit from Israeli technologies, including those in the cybersecurity field. Israeli companies need access to U.S. markets, for which Conexx provides a gateway.

While Conexx was founded to help create jobs in Israel for the immigrants from the former Soviet Union, the organization has transformed into one that generates economic development on both sides of the Atlantic. The benefits to both Israel and Atlanta and the surrounding region are real and quantifiable.

On another note, most people who regularly do business with Israeli companies will say that there is no substitute for going to Israel. Meeting Israeli companies and businesspeople in person cannot be replicated by telephone, email, videoconference, social media or any other electronic means.

If you seek to do business with Israeli companies as clients, customers, vendors or suppliers, you will be best served by going there, meeting them in person and establishing those personal relationships for which there is no substitute. Conexx can help you plan a trip for this purpose, or you can participate in the next Conexx business mission. All you need to do is ask.

Finally, I cannot say enough about Guy Tessler, Bracha Shlomo and the rest of the Conexx staff who helped put together an amazing trip. It will almost certainly result in significant business opportunities for companies and businesspeople in Israel, Atlanta and the Southeast.

Perhaps more important, it has already resulted in positive feelings toward Israel among business leaders who might not otherwise have had the opportunity to formulate those opinions. At a time when Israel can use all of the friends it can get, we can already say “mission accomplished.”