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Minnesota eyes Israel markets

ST. PAUL - Minnesota officials see potential for increased trade with Israel, so Gov. Tim Pawlenty will lead a trade mission there in December.

The governor will lead a delegation of 30 to 40 business leaders with a specific emphasis on increasing exports in the high-technology, manufacturing and energy sectors.

"Minnesota is a modest-sized state, so it's important that we market," Pawlenty said.

The Mideast country last year ranked 22nd among nations receiving Minnesota exports, but the amount of exported goods to Israel is skyrocketing, said Tony Lorusso of the Minnesota Trade Office. Manufactured exports have jumped 179 percent since 2004. Israel imported $121 million in Minnesota goods last year.

"As our largest market in the Middle East, we see additional opportunities in Israel for Minnesota exporters," Lorusso said.

The trade mission is most beneficial to small- and medium-sized businesses that may not otherwise consider marketing in Israel or that need additional help developing trade connections, Pawlenty said. Large businesses often already have a global reach.

"The missions themselves are merely door-openers," Pawlenty said. "And then it becomes incumbent upon the trade office and the individual companies to follow up on the contacts, the knowledge, the opportunity that exist."

The mission is planned for Dec. 11-18, with visits scheduled to Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, major technology firms, business incubators and education institutions.

The trip will be a bit shorter for Pawlenty, who will be in Israel for several days and will speak at a large Israeli business conference, in addition to leading the delegation.

Gov. Arne Carlson led a mission to Israel in 1993. Trade leaders said it is important to make personal contact with trade partners.

State tax dollars only will cover expenses for state employees on the mission.

The American-Israeli Chamber of Commerce and Industry of Minnesota and the Jewish Community Relations Council of Minnesota and the Dakotas are helping to organize the trip.

Pawlenty has taken trade missions to India, China, Canada and Poland and the Czech Republic. He said new business connections are made during the visits, but then sometimes require months or years to develop.

"It doesn't always happen overnight," he said.

The governor said he is considering a trade-related mission to Africa in late 2009 or 2010, but that trip may not focus entirely on economic growth. Health or environmental issues also could be a theme.