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Wisconsin Executive Fosters American-israeli Business Deals


When the prime minister of Israel suggested to a group of American Jewish businessmen 20 years ago that the security of Israel depended not only on its military strength but also on economic development, one Wisconsin man took up the challenge.

Elmer Winter suggested mobilizing American and Israeli business leaders on the Jewish state’s behalf. Yitzhak Rabin, then in his first term as premier, approved and asked Winter to set up the organization.

“I think I was a lone voice” in the beginning, said Winter, who at the time was president of the American Jewish Committee. “Many said I was ahead of the time, maybe I was. But I felt Israel had to stand on its own two feet. I felt that there should be less of a charitable contribution to the country.”

Winter, who in January 1976 was in the process of selling Manpower, the largest temp agency in the world, returned to Milwaukee and immediately set about creating an organization that would promote investment in the Jewish state and joint ventures between U.S. and Israeli businesses.

“I moved from selling Manpower to selling Israel’s brain power,” said Elmer Winter, chairman of the Committee for Economic Growth of Israel, which celebrates its 20th anniversary this year.

A volunteer organization with a board of some 200 American and 25 Israeli business leaders and funded by private donations, CEGI introduces Israeli and American companies to one another for ventures in manufacturing, research and development, and marketing.

By issuing newsletters and booklets to 2,000 influentials around the world discussing how to do business in Israel, to 500 Israeli managers on how to market their wares in the United States, and to some 750 high-tech companies about technological developments within Israel, CEGI’s aim is to improve the country’s economy.

A look back on the past two decades shows drastic economic changes for Israel.

The country’s gross domestic product increased from $12 billion to $85 billion per year. Its exports multiplied tenfold from $1.8 billion to $18 billion and the average wage jumped from $350 per month to $1,500.

“I don’t give myself real high marks,” said Winter. “I can’t take credit.”

While Israel’s economy appears to be booming, the 84-year-old Winter, founder and former president of Manpower, has no plans of slowing down.

“I’m not ready to retire even though almost all my friends have.” A painter and sculptor and author of 13 business-related books, Winter says he is “restless and I think this is the challenge that I need, I enjoy.”

After earning a law degree from the University of Wisconsin in 1935, Winter, a Milwaukee native, joined his brother-in-law-to-be, Aaron Sheinfeld, at his tax law practice. They founded Manpower in 1948.

He married his high school sweetheart, Nannette Rosenberg, with whom he had three daughters and eight grandchildren.

At the age of 70, Winter had his Bar Mitzvah. Eight years later, Nannette died. Winter remarried in 1992 to Hope Melamed.

Twenty years after creating CEGI, Winter’s message promoting investment in Israel has been heard.

“Before, there was an attitude in the Jewish business world: `I give to UJA. Don’t bother me about doing business in Israel.’ I don’t hear that anymore,” Winter said.

“The voice that I had in the past, others are joining in.”

When CEGI began, it provided one-on-one consultations, assisting Israeli companies that wanted to do business in the United States. In recent years, some of these efforts have been replaced by enterprises that help a company from the first to last step.

“There’s more of a reliance on professional organizations that carry it all the way through,” Winter said. “We do primary introductions.”

Most attractive to American businesses, Winter said, is Israel’s brain power. American companies and executives continue to invest billions of dollars into Israel because of its central location in the Middle East and its advanced engineering and management skills.

The Intel Corporation, world leader in computer chip production, recently announced that it would build a new plant in Israel for $1.6 billion and create up to 4,500 new jobs, an unprecedented development in the country’s history.

As business relationships have developed during the past two decades, the number of American-Israeli chambers of commerce has grown, from only one in New York City 20 years ago, to some 20 in cities across the United States today.

With all of these positive changes, the need for one-on-one consultations has diminished, Winter said. Now he has time to develop larger, broader programs such as attracting American Jewish baby boomers to work in Israel on a part- time, temporary or full-time basis.

“I know jobs,” said Winter. “The peace process is absolutely essential” for economic development and employment opportunities.

American businesses are now interested in three-way deals with Israeli and Palestinian companies, Winter said.

Winter’s latest project is aimed at helping build the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

He cited a study, “Development Options for Cooperation: The Middle East/East Mediterranean Region 1996,” by Yossi Vardi and Rafi ben Venisti, that includes 208 projects directed at every aspect of development, from water management to telecommunications.

“If the peace process continues, this will be like the Bible. The country will bloom,” said Winter, adding, “I hope to get some kick out of three-way deals with the Palestinians. If I could do all that, I’ll sleep pretty good at night.”

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