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Bible Belt Economies: Louisiana and Israel’s Strategic Partnership

August 16, 2019

By: Stephen Waguespack

Louisiana has one major characteristic in common with the state of Israel: we are both filled with proud people who have a deep affinity for our respective lands, culture and traditions. Since its founding seven decades ago, Israel has emerged as an economic powerhouse in the Middle East. The modern towers and thriving business centers of Tel Aviv, along with the concerted focus on ingenuity and research in the Israeli workforce, prove to be an inspiring modern complement to the historic images of the Holy Land as described in the Bible.

From the ancient sites of Jerusalem to the white sand beaches of the Mediterranean Sea to the research institutions that dominate their modern economy, Israel is worth a visit as both a tourist and businessperson.

As CEO of the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry (LABI) and a member of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Committee of 100, I was honored to join a delegation to this innovative and beautiful country last year. It became clear to me during that visit Louisiana has an excellent partner in Israel for business opportunities, driven primarily by a shared spirit of individual exceptionalism and entrepreneurship.

Commerce with Israel is already important for Louisiana’s economy. In fact, it is Louisiana's 30th biggest international trading partner, with exports to Israel exceeding $145 million in 2017. The possibilities for additional collaboration are endless.

Take for instance water management. Louisiana, due in large part to its proximity on the Gulf Coast and the delta on which much of its population is based, has tackled challenges with coastal restoration for decades. As such, we have become the world’s foremost expert on land protection and erosion prevention.  Israel, on the other hand, has faced the relentless pressure of securing enough fresh water for agriculture and other commercial uses given its arid climate. Israel is now the premier creator and exporter of methods of drip agriculture and desalination. These techniques allow Israeli companies to make the most efficient use of water. The innovative approach embodied in both cultures, facing similar yet different water threats, have focused on high-level research and entrepreneurial efforts to tackle these obstacles.

Energy is another obvious link. Louisiana has a strong reputation for robust and responsible oil and gas exploration, with offshore drilling platforms operating off the Gulf Coast and a highly-skilled workforce that takes pride in their role fueling the nation’s economy. Israel lacks the petroleum resources of its oil-rich neighbors, but in the past decade has discovered vast gas reserves in the Mediterranean Sea – far, far more than it can consume domestically. The Leviathan natural gas field, the second-largest such find in the Mediterranean, will start extraction come this winter. There is tremendous opportunity for Louisiana companies and entrepreneurs and workers to share their insight and expertise with Israel to ensure they are safe and successful in their efforts.

We also see particular room for growth in future partnerships in the medical and pharmaceutical industries. The total value of goods and services supported by Louisiana's biopharmaceutical sector is over $3.1 billion. This pharmaceutical industry generates more than $144.4 million in state and federal tax revenue. Israeli researchers and entrepreneurs are internationally renowned in these fields. Israel’s eagerness to partner with Louisiana companies and research institutions offer exciting and endless opportunities that can lead to improved health outcomes and business partnerships that can help diversify our economy.

Louisiana has long proven itself a consistent and important friend to Israel. Many of our companies have an established presence in this important region and several of our research institutions currently collaborate on important topics like water conservation, energy and cybersecurity. As these relations deepen and expand, the potential economic impact of fostering new relationships in the region only grows in time.

LABI is excited to see what is coming next down the pipe. Working hand-in-hand with our national partners at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, we are planning future trips to Israel for our Louisiana entrepreneurs and businessmen. These missions will prove mutually beneficial in many ways.  Louisiana and Israel have much in common and the opportunities are endless. Now more than ever it is important for companies to learn more about opportunities in Israel and how best to maximize our similarities in order to improve opportunities for the great people in both regions.