Israeli Defense Companies Flourish in The Free State

Written by Maayan Jaffe-Hoffman on . Posted in Features

Government, MIDC, and Academia All Play a Role

In 2017, Maryland ranked second among the 50 states and Washington, D.C., in WalletHub’s list of the “Most Innovative States.” The study reinforced what many Marylanders already know and what Israeli companies are learning. A hub for technology in general and defense technology in particular, Maryland has emerged over the past several years as a critical partner for Israel’s cutting-edge defense companies.

ELTA, a global leader in the design, manufacture, and support of innovative electronic systems (including the famous Iron Dome), is one of the fastest-growing defense companies in the region. In the past year, ELTA has quadrupled its physical footprint in the region and tripled its workforce, according to Dan Bader, vice president of business operations of ELTA North America.

“We have gone from less than 20 people to almost 50 people in a year and a half,” Bader said. “We moved from a 7,500-square-foot facility in Fulton to a 28,000-square-foot building at the Annapolis Junction.”

Bader said the space and staff perform a combination of research and development, testing and repair, maintenance, and shipping and receiving.

“The past two years have been explosive, and the company is expected to double again in another year,” he said. “It’s an exciting place to be.”

Many Israeli defense companies look to Maryland to establish U.S. branches, according to Barry Bogage, executive director of the Maryland/Israel Development Center (MIDC), a public-private partnership among Maryland’s Department of Commerce, Israel’s Ministry of Economy and Trade, and The Associated: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore. To date, there are about half-a-dozen Israeli defense companies operating in Maryland, he said.

The selling points of doing defense business in Maryland are two-fold, according to Bader. The first is the state government. Gov. Larry Hogan is “all about business,” Bader said, and he senses the governor has made it his objective to grow Maryland’s economic engine and fully support it. For ELTA, that has meant a series of incentives and other support that allowed for its recent growth.

Additionally, ELTA has formed relationships and partnerships with many of the local universities, including Johns Hopkins University, the University of Maryland, College Park, and the University of Maryland, Baltimore County.

“These are great relationships, whether we’re collaborating or just recruiting,” Bader said. “When you need to hire and recruit talent, sometimes you want a senior engineer and sometimes you want someone young and fresh that you can train. The universities offer a great pathway to build a workforce.”

ELTA’s two main customers are the State of Israel and the United States government, Bader said. Through the Foreign Military Sales (FMS) program, ELTA provides defense hardware to the State of Israel in the realm of around $3 billion a year. For the U.S., ELTA’s most recent focus has been the deployment of Integrated Fixed Towers (IFTs) along the southwest U.S. border, which provide surveillance using an ELTA radar. While the towers are manufactured in Israel, ELTA does the repair and maintenance work in Maryland.

All ELTA North America employees are American citizens, dual citizens, or have green cards and are working toward citizenship, Bader explained. This year, the company hopes to become a classified defense company, which will give ELTA access to new and classified U.S. defense contracts.

Bader is confident this will happen.

Barry Silber, CEO of the defense company Advanced Defense Technologies Inc. (ADT), is also thriving in Maryland. ADT has been operating in Maryland for 28 years, and Silber said he is confident in his own company’s continued work in the region.

Silber said that when you are an Israeli defense company in Maryland “it’s easy to get things done” because of all the same reasons that Bader noted.

ADT is a wholly owned subsidiary of an Israeli company, and more than 50 percent of its orders come from Israel, according to Silber. ADT has several defense specialties, but Silber said his hottest products of late are waterproof headsets; rugged displays for military vehicles, aircrafts, ships, and helicopters; controllers for robots and drones; LED lighting solutions; and virtual private server (VPS) systems.

Silber travels to Israel about once a year. He believes that both Maryland and Israel are defense hubs, but for different reasons.

Israel “always needs to be one or more steps ahead of its enemies to make sure they survive,” said Silber, noting that Maryland’s unique geographic position makes the defense industry a Maryland priority.

He also said MIDC is a key ingredient in the “secret sauce” for Israeli companies who come to and thrive in Maryland.

“Barry is always looking out for us and trying to help in any way he can,” Silber said.

Added Bader: “We are very happy and encouraged.”

By Maayan Jaffe-Hoffman

 Maayan Jaffe-Hoffman is the vice president of marketing and brand strategy for Israel365 and a Jerusalem-based freelance writer. She is the former editor in chief of the Baltimore Jewish Times.