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Company Helps to Build Israel by Focusing on ‘corporate Aliyah’

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Move over telecommuting and cross-country conference calls. Make way for corporate aliyah. Yossef Zarka’s vision of bringing entire companies to Israel from North America and Europe is embodied in Leavi, the organization he founded three years ago.

“Business is different now because we can work long-distance,” he says.

Zarka speaks from experience. The owner of a pharmaceutical corporation in France, he relocated the company to Israel 10 years ago.

“I have signed more contacts and markets working from Israel than from France,” he says. “I have the same customers and the same suppliers. Some still do not know today that I am working from Israel.”

While the company maintains an address in France, Zarka, who is in his forties, was able to fulfill his dream of making aliyah. He now lives in Israel with his wife and six children.

Zarka’s idea comes to fruition at a time when Israeli officials are wondering how to achieve Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s goal of bringing 1 million more immigrants to Israel and as the country is increasingly marketing itself as a high-tech haven.

Zarka knew there were thousands of others who, like him, wanted to live in Israel — whether for ideological or religious reasons or to escape the growing anti-Semitism in Europe — but faced logistical challenges. He also knew that many who contemplate the move don’t follow through. Research by Zarka and his team determined that one of the main deterrents is Israel’s 11 percent unemployment rate.

To tackle that obstacle, Zarka and his team audited various types of companies to understand how they might transfer to Israel and determined that at least 80 percent could outsource some operations.

The first model that Leavi uses concerns the outsourcing of a single employee’s job. Such was the case with Andres M., a managing director at IBM in Paris.

“We took him and all of his activity, proposed to his boss that he keep him on rather than endure the time and money to replace him, and we adapted the position to accommodate the long-distance structure,” Zarka says.

Zarka sees that as the first step toward IBM’s outsourcing additional employees because he believes the company will ultimately see the convenience of adding staff in Israel, where IBM already operates and enjoys a modern infrastructure.

To date, Leavi has brought 35 companies to Israel, where they employ over 500 immigrants. Leavi anticipates transplanting another five companies to the Jewish State by the end of 2005.

But Leavi’s biggest challenge remains funding. Its main source of capital came from Zarka himself, who created the company after losing his cousin in the 2002 Passover bombing at a Netanya hotel.

“This event made me realize that I had to make a change in my life and to do something not just for myself and my family but something that would help my people,” he says.

Mike Rosenberg, the director general of the Jewish Agency for Israel’s Immigration and Absorption Department, praises Leavi’s impact.

“The successful implementation and expansion of Leavi’s efforts will no doubt be a tremendous boost to aliyah and, at the same time, to Israel’s economy,” he says.

Ron Machol, Leavi’s business director for English-speaking countries, notes that North American companies also are starting to catch on to the trend. Hundreds of corporations, including powerhouses such as Cisco, Intel, Microsoft and Motorola, already conduct significant operations in Israel.

“A highly educated and multilingual workforce, free-trade agreements, government incentives: These elements combine to form an attractive environment for growing businesses,” Machol says.

Gavin T., the chief technology officer of a voice- and data-connectivity company based outside Toronto, plans to make aliyah in August with his wife and two daughters.

Although Gavin and his family always had an interest in aliyah, the timing never seemed right. But as the company’s geographical product distribution increasingly changes from a North American focus to an emphasis on Europe, Africa and the Middle East, the need has arisen for an overseas representative who can provide greater client service.

Gavin says many factors converged to help crystallize the family’s plans.

“My family and I were recently at dinner, and the service was excellent. But when we mentioned we were in a hurry to make an Israeli music concert nearby, the waiter’s demeanor immediately changed,” he says. “Why should my family have to put up with that type of treatment when we can do something about it?”

If Gavin’s move is successful, the company’s next step would most likely be to open a satellite office in Israel, he said.

The second model Leavi uses is the outsourcing of all or part of a company’s operations while the showroom, warehouse or other base remains in the home country.

One company that Zarka and his team transferred to Israel is an Internet-based firm that sells computers and other high-tech gadgets. The company’s original call centers were in France and the United Kingdom, but a third call center was developed in Israel two years ago. The e-tailer now manages the bulk of its operations from Israel, where its call center has grown stronger than the original ones in Europe.

A medical-supply company that manufactures some of its products abroad has recently begun to develop products in Israel because labor is cheaper.

“They are now starting to understand that they can also do the marketing and the commercial aspect in Israel,” Zarka explains, “so they are preparing to put their own call center in Israel rather than in France.”

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