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Margarita Warren
Student at Suffolk University Law School

Israeli Lessons Apply To Boston’s Future

Monday, January 24th, 2011
By Vivien Li

Originally published in Banker and Tradesman, Monday, December 6th, 2010

Last month, Boston’s City to City Leadership Program – comprised of local business, civic and government leaders – visited Haifa and Tel Aviv in Israel to examine best practices to help foster economic and social progress in Boston, and specifically to learn more about Israel’s successful efforts at technological and other innovations.

The group marveled at the product research being done in Tel Aviv at Intel’s largest facility outside the U.S., as well as Google’s facility, where that company’s search engine was developed. Both are located in Israel’s largest and oldest technology park.

City to City delegates were equally impressed with Haifa’s new emergency trauma center, where medical personnel can access all health records from an integrated data system. Another innovative initiative was a company called Better Place’s efforts to move Israel and other countries away from oil dependence through an electric-car ownership program and network of electric-car charging stations.

At the same time, even Israel has been affected by the global economic downturn, with multinational companies like Cisco having to lay off staff in the past year. Like Massachusetts, housing costs are extremely high in Israel, with homeownership a challenge for many.

Since returning from Israel, many City to City delegates have a greater appreciation of the significant strides made by the city of Boston and the commonwealth to make Massachusetts the “innovation” state.

Almost 150 higher education institutions in the commonwealth, together with the high concentration of research facilities and teaching hospitals, make Massachusetts, and especially Boston, the hub of human capital.

In addition to Boston’s best-known private, four-year academic institutions, the University of Massachusetts system is actively grooming the next generation of innovators. UMass Boston’s Venture Development Center had two finalists in the recent MassChallenge competition for new entrepreneurs, and the pioneering research of Dr. Craig Mello of the UMass Medical Center was recognized with a Nobel Prize in 2006.

In 2009, Boston Mayor Thomas Menino launched the 1,000-acre “innovation district” along the South Boston waterfront. This new district is designed to stimulate and support creative entrepreneurs, recognizing that social interaction helps to foster new ideas and bold thinking. Collaboration between academic institutions, including nearby UMass Boston, and promoters of the Innovation District should be strongly pursued.

Stepping Up

Waterfront developers have stepped forward to support Boston’s innovation district, beginning with The Fallon Co.’s generous donation of 30,000 square feet of free office space for finalists of MassChallenge, the world’s largest global startup competition.

Developers John Hynes and Morgan Stanley’s Seaport Square project will provide the city with a free, 12,000-square-foot Innovation Center from 2011 through 2021. The developer will also build so-called “live/work flexible spaces for forward thinking people,” consisting of 12,000 square feet of office space priced at 70 percent of the prevailing market rate, with small apartments above the offices.

Developer John Drew’s Waterside Place project, near the Boston Convention & Exhibition Center, will include 15,000 square feet of “plug and play” office space and flexible, below-market-rate leases to assist entrepreneurs in the second stage of product/technology development.

Nearby, at 319A, small residential studios with common kitchens and shared living rooms will be available at lower rents for workers in the innovation economy. The combination of work and live activities in Boston’s Innovation District is unique and, based on what we heard in Israel, should be strongly supported.

Israel’s MATAM Technology Center targets companies private investors tend to ignore, and provides tax reductions to such companies. Boston’s Marine Industrial Park provides significant below-market-rate leases to marine-related and other industrial users. Efforts to continue to expand “environmentally sustainable” and renewable energy ventures should be encouraged, including both research and development activities and, where possible, product manufacturing.

In Israel, military conscription is required of all 18 year olds. In formal and informal discussions, authorities spoke of how national service contributes to the maturity of young workers while encouraging creativity and teamwork in problem solving.

Here in Massachusetts, there are 8,000 men and women in the National Guard. Training and exercises which promote innovation among National Guard members should be a priority, so that National Guard “duty” is valued by employers as a means to foster creativity and teamwork.

As the City to City delegation returned from Israel, a number of participants felt that with the initiatives already underway in Boston and the commonwealth, the next decade will put the South Boston innovation district on the global map.
 


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