Israeli defense companies visited Michigan on industrial mission
It took Beth Gotthelf 18 months, lots of phone calls, even more emails and two visits to Israel before she accomplished her goal — to bring the first-ever trade mission of Israeli defense companies to Michigan.
Working with the “‘commercial end” of the Israeli Ministry of Defense known as SIBAT, the International Defense Cooperation Directorate of the Israel Ministry of Defense, she was able to bring a business delegation of 13 Israeli defense companies to Michigan April 24-27. Those companies provide top technology and solutions in defense and homeland security and include the five largest defense companies in Israel. The focus was on subsystems for armed vehicles, robotics, autonomous systems and various homeland security solutions.
The goal of the visit was to strengthen cooperation between Israeli and Michigan companies and encourage them to share technology and begin joint production in Michigan. The mission was led by SIBAT, the Michigan Economic Development Corporation (MEDC) Defense Center, Michigan Israel Business Bridge (MIBB) and Macomb County.
It started with Gotthelf’s trip to Washington, D.C., in October 2015 for the Association of U.S. Army’s (AUSA) annual conference as co-chair of law firm Butzel Long’s Aerospace and Defense Practice Group.
Gotthelf was the newly elected president of MIBB and was committed to grow Michigan businesses with the help of Israeli companies as well as increase the value of MIBB membership.
She approached SIBAT representatives at the conference and suggested a trade mission to Michigan of Israeli defense companies. With Vicky Rad and Jim Ahee of Macomb County Economic Development, Gotthelf went to each Israeli company displaying at the conference explaining the benefits of Michigan and asking if they would come on such a mission.
“SIBAT had never done a trade mission, but was considering a one-week mission for five companies to three states,” Gotthelf said. “However, Michigan was not on their list of potential states.”
After lots of communication, Michigan made the list, along with a few other states.
“They asked me what I thought of their choices,” Gotthelf said. “I gathered information on the other states but also gave them a lot of information about Michigan’s greatness. Finally, SIBAT decided it would only focus on Michigan for its first big mission.”
Michigan is the epicenter of the automotive industry, but few outside the state know it is also a major defense center. Seventy percent of everything a soldier shoots, drives, flies, wears, eats or communicates with was contracted in Michigan, according to MEDC.
Macomb County is a hub of Michigan’s defense industry, anchored by the U.S. Army’s Tank Automotive Research, Development and Engineering Center (TARDEC) and Tank-automotive and Armaments Command.
During the event, the Israeli delegation participated in the April 25-26 TARDEC Industry Days, where they heard about TARDEC’s 30-year strategy and initiatives at the Detroit Arsenal. They also attended the April 26-27 Michigan Defense Expo meeting with Michigan defense companies.
“Macomb County is the defense capital of the Midwest,” said Mark Hackel, Macomb County Executive. “We welcomed the Israeli delegation to Michigan and discussed how together we can meet our business goals.”
Nearly 4,000 Michigan businesses are currently involved in the defense industry, according to the MEDC. They are involved in projects such as information technology solutions, construction services and generating energy-saving ideas that can be applied in the field.
“Michigan’s economy continues to strengthen and offers tremendous opportunities to Israel’s many defense companies,” said MEDC Chief Executive Officer Steve Arwood. “We look forward to working collaboratively with public, private and governmental partners to raise awareness and implement innovative solutions to complex defense issues.”
According to Hadas Bernard, MIBB executive director, the Israeli defense companies were well received by the Michigan business community. The MIBB anticipates many positive economic impacts from the mission.
MARGE SORGE SPECIAL TO THE JEWISH NEWS