Ron Hicks, president and CEO of the Rockland Economic Development Corp., recently traveled to Tel Aviv to represent BioHud Valley, NY, which promotes a growing cluster of biotech, pharmaceutical and life science companies in the region. He attended the 10th National Life Science and Technology week and the ILSA-BioMed Conference. During the week, he met with Israeli companies to promote doing business in New York. How did this trip come about? In working with the Israeli economic mission in New York City, we learned the conference was going to be in May. I was the only one available when we learned of the conference, so I planned to attend. One of my specific targets was Teva Pharmaceutical, the largest generic manufacturer of drugs in the world. They’re based in Israel and had previously acquired a company in Rockland and moved it to another location. They only have a Stony Point location that’s still in Rockland.Why was it important to target them? We have to look at our assets. In Rockland, one asset is a large Jewish community. Israel and I think, Israelis, understand having strong supporters in the United States and a strong Jewish community here. My point with Teva was to say Rockland is a strong supporter of Israel and a friend of Israel. We want to make sure we are here to help Teva at that facility in any way we can ....But if they are growing, looking to relocate, we want them to work with us to provide them with a world-class work force. What is BioHud Valley, NY? It’s an initiative of the Rockland Economic Development Corp. and the Westchester Office of Economic Development and the Hudson Valley Economic Development Corp. We focus on two clusters in the Hudson Valley, and one is biotech. We have more than 63 biotech companies in the lower Hudson Valley, including Pfizer in Rockland, which is one of largest research based pharmaceutical companies in the world. Were there any other things you set out to achieve? Israel has a growing pharmaceutical cluster, very strong, and the country really supports that cluster. I wanted to go there and see why they are located in Israel and growing, number one, and number two, I wasn’t to find out that if they need to do business in the United States, I wanted them to know who I am and where we are and our proximity to New York City, and for them to start their first U.S. operations here in Rockland County. Three, I wanted to find out if there were any that could. I wanted to find out if there were any businesses there that could partner with businesses we have in Rockland. And last, I wanted to establish the groundwork and lay the foundation for our participation in BioMed Israel in the future.What was your overall impression? Brilliant. I’ve always wanted to go and from the moment I booked the trip, I knew I’d have an amazing experience. I knew that just going to the beginnings of humanity and religion would be a moving trip.Did you get to see anything besides biotech? I had a day and half of tourism. To be in the holy city of Jerusalem and to learn from a brilliant guide, thanks to Paul Adler. He was able to show me so much in a short period of time. To be there and to go to the Wall and pray, even as a Catholic, was tremendously moving for me. It is one of the most holy places on earth, and it was very emotional for me. I was able to go to Bethlehem and my Palestinian guides too me to the Church of the Nativity and the spot were they claim Jesus was born. I thought Jerusalem was a beautiful city and I felt safer in Israel than I do in New York. What was your reaction to the Kotel, or the Western Wall? The wall was incredibly moving. Coming from a Catholic faith, with a Protestant father and Catholic mother, when you go into a holy spot, you want complete silence, you want to reflect, and there were three bat mitzvahs going on and people were throwing candy and I got hit in the head and I’m thinking are you kidding?What stood out for you most? I expected a completely different terrain from the culture and tension and from what you read in the news. I really expected to be in a tense zone, where there was a lot of camouflage and firearms and a lot of concrete and sand. To be honest with you, Tel Aviv was alike a little New York City and I felt completely comfortable walking the streets, venturing on my own and eating the local food. Anything unexpected? I’m really pissed that Coca Cola sells large glass botle3s of Coke there and not here. You were there when President Obama made his remarks about the ’67 borders. How did that come across in Israel? I was there two days after Obama issued his new policy and I was there when Obama and Netanyahu spoke before AIPAC. The Israelis didn’t pay that much attention to it. We have a relationship with Congress and what the president says is irrelevant to us, was their reaction. Being there with my guide, I not only heard what he had to say, but I could see it. Israel is the size of the state of New Jersey. If you were to withdraw from those strategic lines, you are really putting yourself down; you are not going to be there long. But it was cool to be there when that was all happening. Do you think you'll go back? Absolutely. I’m really looking forward to going back with other people. There are people in Israel I’d love to see again and people in Rockland I’d love to go with. And when I go next time, well there’s no doubt.
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