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Trade mission to Israel and West Bank

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Mayor Gérald Tremblay addresses the media about his forthcoming trip to the Middle East as Israel Consul General Joel Lion looks on.

MONTREAL — Gérald Tremblay has a book to recommend to local entrepreneurs: Start-up Nation: The Story of Israel’s Economic Miracle.

That 2009 bestseller by Dan Senor and Saul Singer has been the Montreal mayor’s bedtime reading as he prepares to lead an economic mission to Israel and the West Bank Sept. 8-14, in co-operation with the Board of Trade of Metropolitan Montreal.

Close to 50 representatives of Quebec businesses, universities, professional firms, and agencies are joining the mission. It marks the first time in more than a decade that a Montreal mayor has visited Israel.

“The Israeli culture is very similar to ours,” Tremblay said at a press conference at City Hall, Aug. 28. “We both believe in innovation, creativity and entrepreneurship, and share a willingness to take risks.”

Tremblay will meet with the mayors of Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, Haifa, Be’er Sheva, as well as Ramallah, and join delegates in meetings with business and academic leaders.

When the mission was announced in May by the board to its members, it was described as a five-day visit to Israel only.

Tremblay noted that the Montreal area is home to about 5,000 people of Palestinian descent, and they are eager to assist in the territories’ economic development and other exchanges.

The mission is presented by the law firm Heenan Blaikie, in collaboration with Peerless Clothing.

With its renewed construction activity and strength in health care and knowledge-based industries, Montreal should be attractive to foreign investors, said Tremblay, who would like to see Montreal serve as a gateway for economic activity between the Middle East and North America.

Board president Michel Leblanc said Israel is an interesting market for Montreal businesses because of Israeli entrepreneurs’ drive and openness to partnerships, and the country’s favourable environment for trade and investment. Businesses and institutions should consider Israel if they are looking for research partners, aggressive investors, clients for their inventions or “simply new ideas,” Leblanc said.

The business areas represented on the mission range from information technology, pharmaceuticals and the  aerospace industry, to fashion and cosmetics.

Among the companies are Thales Canada, Novatek and IBM, as well as such sector representatives as the Consortium for Research and Innovation in Aerospace in Quebec, TechnoMontréal, and Montréal International, a nonprofit organization promoting the city around the world as a place to do business.

The academic representatives come from Concordia and McGill universities, École de Technologie Supérieure, Polytechnique Montréal, Université de Montréal, Université Laval, and Collège Lionel Groulx.

Agreements of co-operation are expected to be signed with the Weizmann Institute, Technion and Bar-Ilan University.

Among the other organizations, Nancy Rosenfeld, president of the Claudine and Stephen Bronfman Family Foundation, and Luciano Del Negro and Jonathan Kalles, staff members of the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs, which assisted in the mission’s organization, are on the mission.

“We are hoping to develop a sustainable and mutually profitable business relationship with Israel and the West Bank,” said Tremblay, a Harvard Business School graduate and former Quebec industry minister, who was a successful entrepreneur himself before getting into municipal politics. He is entering the final year of his third term as mayor.

“We can draw inspiration from Israel’s model of innovation that brings together enterprises, universities and government. Our experience of setting up industrial clusters may also be of interest to this part of the world.”

While in Israel, Tremblay will take part in a roundtable discussion on the Israeli and Montreal models of business innovation, and attend the opening of the High Tech Industry Association annual conference.

He will address the Federation of Israeli Chambers of Commerce and the Canada-Palestine Business Network.

Tremblay’s predecessor, Pierre Bourque, led a smaller trade mission to Israel, as well as Lebanon and Greece, in the 1990s.

Israeli Consul General Joel Lion, who joined Tremblay at the press conference, took credit for putting the idea of this mission into his head.

“Everything began after I presented Mayor Tremblay with a copy of [Start-up Nation],” said Lion.

 “Montreal is an important economic centre with very special cultural and linguistic characteristics that makes it interesting for Israeli business people and consumers. Israel has a lot to offer and my colleague, the consul for economic affairs Ran Yehezkel, and I are very happy that we were able to convince the mayor and business people to come and learn from our experience in research, innovation and high tech.”

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