Talking about the Virginia Israel Advisory Board

by | Feb 8, 2013 | Uncategorized

Sabra Dipping Company in Chesterfield County, Va.

Sabra Dipping Company in Chesterfield County, Va.

When a group of Tidewater advocates traveled to Richmond for Date with the State, or Jewish Advocacy Day, last month, one of the main topics discussed with area General Assembly members was the Virginia Israel Advisory Board.

The Community Relations Council of the United Jewish Federation of Tidewaterled group did not request any current action for VIAB. Rather, they thanked their senators and delegates for voting to restore funding to the state-appointed agency during last year’s session, and provided information and updates about the many benefits VIAB brings to Virginia.

The primary mission of VIAB is to increase jobs in the Commonwealth by encouraging Israeli companies to locate their businesses in the state. VIAB also advises the Governor on ways to improve economic and cultural links between Virginia and Israel.

From 2000 until 2012, VIAB generated nearly $41 million in state tax revenues and helped add around 1,500 new jobs to Virginia’s workforce. In 2012 alone, VIAB was instrumental in the creation of 154 new jobs in Virginia.

Without restoration last year for the original budget line item of $175,361 (it had been cut by nearly $50,000), the state was at risk of losing VIAB. Throughout the recession, the agency was stripped of all staff except for executive director Ralph Robbins, and further cuts would have made it impossible to effectively do the work required. Restored funding allowed the agency to provide a working salary for Robbins, as well as enable the hiring of a part-time support person in Virginia and Israel.

All of the statistics relayed to the elected officials seemed to capture their attention, but the one that made them nod their heads in appreciation was the 523% return in investment for every budget dollar allocated to VIAB.

Currently, VIAB has eight prospective Israeli companies looking closely at Virginia as a state where their businesses could grow and thrive. In the next one to three years, the agency projects an additional 400 jobs will be created through the Israeli companies based in Virginia, bringing in even more tax revenue to the state’s coffers.

Speaking to groups of Jewish advocates from all over Virginia during Date with the State, both Robbins and Governor Bob McDonnell praised the strong bonds being forged between Virginia and Israeli companies that have set up base in Virginia, and were strongly optimistic about continued growth and opportunity.

In addition to hearing from citizen advocates, lawmakers were given a packet of information from the CRC that included a list of VIAB’s 2012 accomplishments and plans for 2013. Below are some highlights from that list.

Sabra Dipping Company
Maker of hummus, Sabra is located in Chesterfield County. In the third year of operations of its only U.S. manufacturing plant, Sabra added 110 new jobs. Another 90 jobs are projected for FY2013, and potentially an additional 100 in the following two years.

A 2012 expansion of Sabra’s facility brings the company’s Virginia investment to $28 million.

Now, VIAB is helping to co-locate an Israeli supplier and a second vendor near the Sabra plant with the potential to create 75 additional jobs in the next one to two years.

Perhaps even more significantly, a joint project VIAB helped kick off with Sabra, Virginia State University and the Virginia Department of Agriculture, is testing Virginia specific chick pea seeds in southern and southwest Virginia. This project could create up to 10,000 farming jobs over the next two to seven years.

The Virginia Life Science Investments initiative
An outgrowth of the Virginia Israel Bio Sciences Commercialization Center, The Virginia Life Science Investments initiative is comprised of nine Israeli companies that pursue commercialization projects with $18 million in investment funding. Another investment round is planned for the next 12–24 months.

Using technologies developed at VLSI, a new countertop manufacturing facility is slated to open in Norfolk in 2013 using state-of-the-art Cupron technologies. Up to 60 jobs are expected in its first year.

Modeled on the VLSI success, VIAB’s Gateway program educates dozens of Israeli companies in a given business sector on advantages of the Virginia marketplace, and then selects the best qualified companies to move forward on potential projects.

An October 2012 Gateway event targeted nine Israeli defense-related companies that cumulatively employ 400 workers and boast international sales above $100 million.

Five of the companies will need U.S. manufacturing facilities within the next six to 24 months, one is expected to open a Northern Virginia office within four months, while another is moving forward on a manufacturing presence elsewhere in the state—with a potential for 60 new jobs over a three year period.

In partnership with Dominion Resources, VIAB’s CleanTech Sector Gateway program targets Israeli alternative energy companies.

One company has opened an office in Richmond to develop environmentally friendly solutions that keep heat exchanger and cooling towers clean and running efficiently.

A second company is partnering with Dominion on installation-free electric energy management that helps utilities adjust to peak usage and helps consumers reduce costs.

ClearFarma “Functional Foods”
A research and development start-up company, it is the brainchild of Israeli entrepreneur Ascher Shmulewitz and former Sabra CTO, Mike Spinelli. The two men expect to launch a plant in Richmond within two years that could employ 50 to 60 workers in manufacturing functional foods ingredients; foods clinically proven to help a medical condition.

VIAB is attracting Israeli companies to the Manassas Center for Infectious Diseases/George Mason University Partnership that will help commercialize products to combat diseases.

MedCPU has opened a U.S. office in Richmond to expand its systems that reduces medical errors and costs while improving patient care.

VIAB continues negotiations with the Dulles International Airport, the Airports Authority and Fairfax County Economic Development Authority to create a direct Tel Aviv flight. At the same time, VIAB is working with a consortium to create a permanent exhibit of Israeli companies near Dulles Airport that could underscore the potential benefits of direct flight links.

by Laine M. Rutherford