Chamber president takes inaugural trip to Israel

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From left, Kalispell Chamber President Joe Unterreiner, Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce President Kelly Brough, formerly of Havre, and Montana Chamber President Webb Brown at a restaurant in Tel Aviv during an inaugural trip to Israel. (Photo courtesy of Joe Unterreiner)

Joe Unterreiner, president and CEO of the Kalispell Chamber of Commerce, recently took part in a trip to kick off the “Business Israel” program created by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

The program was launched May 8 to extend an existing partnership between the U.S. Chamber and its Israel counterpart, the Israel-America Chamber of Commerce (AmCham Israel).

The objective of Business Israel is to bring state and local chamber executives from all 50 states to Israel over the next three years to expand American export markets and attract investment to the U.S. The program aims to encourage collaboration in industries such as water and agriculture, cybersecurity and health.

Marking the inaugural trip were 17 state and city chambers, including Kalispell. The group was led by Myron Brilliant, executive vice president and head of International Affairs for the U.S. Chamber.

The United States and Israel have had an existing business relationship since the U.S. made its first international free trade agreement with Israel in 1985.

“Several U.S. high-tech and advanced manufacturing companies, including Applied Materials, have opened affiliates in Israel because of the workforce and the start-up culture,” Unterreiner said, adding that Israel has the highest research and development spending per capita in the world.

While in Israel, Unterreiner took the opportunity to tour the Applied Materials location in Tel Aviv, which focuses on research and development. The Kalispell location functions as the business unit, doing packaging and plating.

“Through the U.S.-Israel Business Initiative and other international programs we intend to provide greater support to Montana businesses seeking to export to new markets around the world,” Unterreiner said.

Unterreiner noted that over the last 15 years, Israel has been the top country manufacturers in the valley export to. China is a close second, he said.

Unterreiner became a part of the inaugural Business Israel group after being recruited through the Chamber of Commerce Committee of 100. The opportunity was first presented in a meeting in early March and he jumped at the chance to join.

Following the trip, Unterreiner said potential actions for Kalispell include an international trip for local chamber members and following up on potential business opportunities.

The trip included meetings with AmCham Israel members, members of Israel’s Knesset (unicameral parliament), Minister of the Economy Eli Cohen and “Start-up Nation” author Saul Singer. The group also visited Israeli businesses and other locations, including the National Cyber Bureau, Teva Pharmaceuticals and the Weizmann Institute of Science.

“The level of sophistication is very impressive,” Unterreiner said. “Especially given its [Israel’s] lack of water ... in an area that does not have an abundance of natural resources they’ve learned to manage that very well.”

Unterreiner noted that the country has seen spectacular growth in high-tech industries including cyber security. He hopes to see that sector benefit Kalispell in some way.

Over the next three years, the program anticipates to bring two or three groups abroad each year, with about 20 chamber executives from around the country per trip. After the three-year period, Unterreiner said the chamber will evaluate all that was learned and put together a plan to further strengthen the business relationship between the two countries.

“By better understanding the environment our manufacturers are marketing and selling into, the Kalispell Chamber is better positioned to serve Flathead Valley business growth and success,” Unterreiner said.

Reporter Alyssa Gray may be reached at 758-4433 or agray@dailyinterlake.com.

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