By Etan Horowitz
Sentinel Staff Writer
August 24, 2009
Florida and Israel both have hot climates, water-supply challenges and a growing focus on life sciences, simulation technologies and alternative energy. Despite these similarities, only about 1 percent of the total trade between the U.S. and Israel comes from Florida.
A group of Central Florida business people is trying to change that by encouraging local companies to do business with companies in Israel.
“With the strength of the Jewish community in Florida and the fact that we have so many areas where we can partner up and work together, I think that accounting for [so little] of overall trade is unacceptable,” said Diego Echeverri, director of political and economic affairs for the Consulate General of Israel in Miami.
Both regions also attract lots of tourists and are home to several world-class research universities.
A few weeks ago, about 40 people attended a meeting of the Florida Israel Business Forum at a downtown Orlando law firm. The forum, which has offices in Orlando and Miami, was established earlier this year by the Consulate General of Israel to encourage trade with Florida.
In October, the group is planning to bring about a dozen technology companies to a water conference in Orlando, and then in November, the group will be part of a delegation of Florida business people who plan to visit technology companies and attend a water-technology conference in Israel.
Solar tech could be key
One key area ripe for partnership is in solar technologies. In Israel, 90 percent of the homes have solar panels, and some of the most innovative solar products in the world are produced there, Echeverri said. More Florida businesses are offering solar products as more people to look to install solar panels to harness energy or heat pools and water for their homes.
Much of that growth has been spurred by rebates the state started offering in 2006 for companies and residences that install solar systems. “You almost pay nothing for the systems,” said Victor Eyal, the chief operating officer and president of UMA Solar, an Altamonte Springs company that sells solar pool heating systems, water heaters and electricity producing solar panels.
Eyal, who grew up in Israel, is one of the local business leaders leading the push to link Central Florida with Israel. He moved to Central Florida in 1981 and began importing water collectors from Israel to use in the solar pool heating systems he sells. The collectors Eyal imports are produced on a kibbutz, and he estimates he brings in about $15 million worth of product from Israel a year.
“It’s my lifeline,” Eyal said. “Without importing product from Israel I would be out of business.”