Stef Wertheimer’s new Middle East

The Tefen Industrial Park includes the Open Museum display the beauty of industry. (Photo: Gems in Israel)Israeli industrialist Stef Wertheimer is planning a major project that he says will bring stability to the Middle East – 100 industrial parks that …

The Tefen Industrial Park includes the Open Museum display the beauty of industry. (Photo: Gems in Israel)Israeli industrialist Stef Wertheimer is planning a major project that he says will bring stability to the Middle East – 100 industrial parks that will employ Israelis and Palestinians.

The parks “will keep people busy with work instead of terror,” Wertheimer told Globes in a recent interview. “The parks will serve as a five-year incubator for manufacturing and export companies. If aid is obtained, the parks can usher in an era in which production, exports, education, and an advanced quality of life can replace terrorism and poverty.”

Wertheimer presented his plan to the US House of Representatives Committee on International Relations in July 2002. Former Senate Majority Leader George Mitchell has become its leading exponent on Capitol Hill. Those promoting the plan include former Secretary of Defense William Cohen, former House Appropriations Committee chairperson Robert Livingstone, and Lynn Holstein, who manages Wertheimer’s overseas affairs.

Last week, the 77-year-old Wertheimer hosted an international conference on the subject, called “Export Industry: A Missing Link to Regional Stability.” The conference featured Mitchell, Livingstone and other policymakers and business leaders from the U.S., Israel, Jordan, and Turkey and the Palestinian Authority, held at Tefen Industrial – the Western Galilee economic center Wertheimer created.

The purpose of the conference was to discuss the building of entrepreneurial economic development centers in non-oil-producing countries of the eastern Mediterranean – starting with Jordan, Israel, Turkey and, in due course, the Palestinian Authority.

Wertheimer and his conference panelists, including deputy prime minister and industry and trade minister Ehud Olmert, former US senator Mitchell – who chaired peace negotiations in northern Ireland – Turkish minister Ali Babacan, Manufacturer’s Association president Oded Tyrah, Nazareth mayor Ramez Jeraisy and Avigdor Itzchaky, director-general of the Prime Minister’s Office, signed a mission statement asserting their intention to strengthen and foster social stability of their entire region through a major program of industrialization.

“There is a need for economic growth and job creation to help create stability,” Mitchell told The Jerusalem Post. “Economic interaction often leads to political action.”

Wertheimer is calling his vision the Middle East Marshall Plan, his concept for using industry to provide training, create jobs, alleviate poverty and raise the per capita income of those living in the Middle East

“My Marshall Plan is based on aid from Western countries for strengthening the Middle East, in order to achieve peace and tranquility. The region will be strengthened by establishing 100 industrial parks on the Tefen model. The parks will serve as a five-year incubator for manufacturing and export companies. If aid is obtained, the parks can usher in an era in which production, exports, education, and an advanced quality of life can replace terrorism and poverty. The Tefen model, on which the parks will be based, combines a residential village with an industrial park,” he told Globes.

“We’re talking about peace and stability. The Jewish communities in the territories and the people who live there are not the problem, nor are the Israelis and the Palestinians. The problem is creating jobs and wages. The next war will be industry fighting for markets, not Jews against Arabs. Ordinary wars are a thing of the past, and those still taking place are merely a residue of the past. People once thought that power could solve problems. They now understand the limitations of power.”

According to the financial website TheMarker.com, Shari Arison’s departure for Miami made Wertheimer the wealthiest man in Israel. He is self-made, having begun as a machine tool producer in a shack in Nahariya in 1952. TheMarker.com estimates the personal fortune of Wertheimer and his son, Eitan Wertheimer, the owners of Iscar and Blades Technology, at $2.5-3 billion.

As the wealthiest owner of a private manufacturing company, Wertheimer has largely kept out of the public eye. While he had a short stint in politics in the 1970′s and early 80′s, serving in the Knesset for one term representing the Shinui party, he has since preferred to operate in the private sector, and focus on industry, work, exports, and manufacturing. However he dislikes discussing his personal wealth: attempts to direct the conversation to the subject are answered with non-cooperation, dismissal, and hostile refusal. He says he hates talking about money, saying he’s “in the vision and industry department. I don’t work for money; I work for the creativity of it, and that’s what I get out of it.”

Instead, Wertheimer uses his influence to persuade and convince other power brokers that his plan for regional industrial parks can work.

“Those who are coming are already convinced. I believe that my model, four industrial parks in Israel, which have spawned 162 enterprises to date, projected to increase to 250 by 2010, can change the entire region.”

Wertheimer calls his industrial parks a “capitalistic kibbutz” – a business and social concept, which provides education and an advanced quality of life, together with liberalism and private initiative.

“The idea of industrial parks in the Middle East and on the borders between Israel and its neighbors is that the parks will bring industry and provide jobs, which will keep people busy working, instead of engaging in terrorism.”

“In industrial parks, companies are part of an incubator. They receive guidance, counseling, and secretarial services. They have less bureaucracy to handle. We give them centralized services, we invest in them, and we nurture them. My staff and I are involved in the business of the companies at Tefen, and provide helpful guidance. They can operate and export like medium-sized companies, despite their miniscule size. Companies get services free or at reduced prices for five years. After they grow, they leave the park for independent activity.”

Wertheimer’s model park is the Tefen industrial park. Built in 1982, it encompasses everything from transportation to cultural and educational facilities. Tefen is one of four such parks in Israel that generate some $1 billion in combined revenue.

“The Tefen model shows that the main thing isn’t real estate or construction investment; it’s a model that offer synergy between the following five factors: Education through entrepreneurial and creativity courses for industry and management. Tefen also has a national school that includes industry in its courses.
Art Tefen and the other parks have sculpture gardens and museums to display the beauty of industry. The dining room and lobby at Iscar are decorated with paintings by Uri Lifshitz and other artists.”

Wertheimer is also proud of his industrial park in Nazareth where Israeli Jews and Arabs work side by side.

“Coexistence the industrial park in Arab Nazareth is a good example of coexistence. When people work together, they have no time for nonsense. They’re too tired at night to commit terrorist acts. They’re satisfied, they engage in producing. They work together, not against each other.”

Wertheimer isn’t confining his idea to Israel though, and has plans underway in Turkey and Jordan.

“We recently inaugurated an industrial park in Gebze, Turkey, which will be officially opened next year. The park is a 50-50 partnership between local entrepreneurs and me. The next target is an industrial park in Aqaba, Jordan, on the border with Eilat, based on the Erez industrial zone.”

(Based on an interview in Globes)