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Israelis plan to strengthen business ties to Western Pa.

| Wednesday, May 21, 2014, 10:54 p.m.

Pittsburgh's business connections to Israel may not be readily apparent, but Israeli officials and leaders of the city's Jewish community say they are many.

They hope the ties will multiply.

Elad Strohmayer, Israeli deputy general counsel for the Mid-Atlantic region, told the Tribune Review on Wednesday that opportunities for partnerships may arise this year with the pending approval of a $10 million Israeli-Pennsylvania research and development fund meant to underwrite projects approaching commercialization.

“I think Pittsburgh has a lot of potential for strong economic relations with Israel,” Strohmayer said.

He compared Western Pennsylvania's innovation-oriented economy to Israel's national spirit.

“(Israel) is a start-up nation. Our strength is in human resources, human capital,” he said.

Trade between the United States and Israel trade took off nearly 30 years ago with the ratification of the U.S.-Israel Free Trade Agreement, the first such agreement reached by the United States.

Greg Roman, community relations council director for the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh, noted that Pennsylvania has a trade representative in Israel whose job is to find business opportunities for Pennsylvania companies to expand their market in Israel, and for Israeli companies to come here.

Roman said Israel often looks to areas such as Pittsburgh for manufacturing facilities.

“We are 8 million people, and we need to grow and expand. What better place than here in the U.S.,” Strohmayer said.

Strohmayer said those international connections are evident in the Philadelphia region, where Israeli pharmaceutical giant TEVA has its headquarters and employs about 1,700 people.

Closer to home, Ness Techologies in Canonsburg, has roots in Israel; dbMotion, a project of UPMC and Israeli researchers to develop medical software, was acquired by a Chicago company last year for $235 million.

According to the state Department of Community and Economic Development, exports to Israel from Pennsylvania companies totaled $275.5 million in 2013, an increase of 22.6 percent from 2012.

“We've seen a lot of interest in Pennsylvania companies trading with Israel, and we have quite a lot of investment from Israel here,” said Wilfred Muskens, deputy secretary of the state Department of Community and Economic Development.

David Patti, CEO of the Pennsylvania Business Council, said it's not surprising that Israeli officials would consider the Pittsburgh region a prime place for investment and trade partnerships.

“Pennsylvania, and Pittsburgh in particular, is very well-liked by other nations. They like the work ethic, they like the quality, and they like the price,” Patti said.

Debra Erdley is a Trib Total Media staff writer. Reach her at 412-320-7996 or derdley@tribweb.com.

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