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Doug Huebsch (center) visiting the Ramit turkey breeder farm north of Tel Aviv with Ramit CEO Dani Stanitzski (right) and on farm manager Shimon Cohen (left). The mesh hats prevent bacteria-laden hair from contaminating the birds.

Perham businessman heads to Israel for trade mission, along with Gov. Pawlenty

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Local businessman Doug Huebsch of New Life Farms didn't have to shovel any snow during the mid-December blizzard. Instead of checking on his own turkeys, he was checking out Israeli turkeys on a trade mission led by Governor Tim Pawlenty.

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Huebsch was one of 35 businessmen accompanying the governor Dec. 11-18. Pawlenty was trying to improve on the $121 million in goods Minnesota sold to Israel last year.

The mission delegates had several days of intensive all-day briefings with trade officials, business and technology leaders, and commercial trade experts from the American embassy in Tel Aviv. Evenings were spent being hosted by local business magnates, and Monday evening the mission had dinner at U.S. Ambassador Jim Cunningham's official residence.

Huebsch had his own one-on-one meetings with the Israeli companies who supply advanced equipment to his turkey operations. Experts in poultry production, the Israeli suppliers have helped him improve production.

"We've got a shortage of agricultural labor in our country and we need to keep making things more and more efficient and get more and more productivity," Huebsch said. "The only way to do that is by applying technology and Israel has great technology in everything that they do in agriculture, because they've got similar problems."

Danny Cole, managing director of the company that sells turkey nesting systems to New Life Farms, discussed technical issues and took Huebsch to a local turkey breeder who uses the latest in feed and environmental control systems. Cole, who values the five-year relationship his company has with Minnesota farms, said they had to shower going in and then again coming out, for bio-security reasons.

Delegates paid their own way on the trip, but Huebsch said it was well worth it.

"The Israelis spent a lot of money and time developing it and I'll continue importing the technology," he said. Despite the large investment in importing the equipment from the Middle East, Huebsch said "the payback is fairly rapid in terms of years."

Pawlenty addressed a major Israeli business conference Dec. 14 in Tel Aviv, had a chance meeting in the hallway with Israeli President and Nobel Peace Prize laureate Shimon Peres, and held talks in Jerusalem on Tuesday with Prime Minister Ehud Olmert.

The governor said that Minnesota exports to Israel have nearly tripled since 2004, and the Holy Land is the state's 22nd largest trade partner. Olmert previously held cabinet seats for health and trade, and had done his homework, surprising Pawlenty with his knowledge of Minnesota. Pawlenty said the two talked about health issues, the peace process, and trade potential during their hour-long meeting.

"We're here primarily to make sure that we do all that we can to open doors and raise awareness regarding export opportunities to Israel and furthering our economic relationship," Pawlenty said.

"We also met on the trip with other companies who either have already or are interested in investing in Minnesota. And that means more Minnesota jobs, more investment in terms of buildings and capital equipment in Minnesota."

An avid ice hockey player, Pawlenty also received an invitation to bring his skates on his next trip to play a friendly pickup game with the local Israeli recreational league.

"I don't think I could have asked for a better mission," said Tony Lorusso, Executive Director of the Minnesota Trade Office who did the groundwork for the trip and help set up the complex itinerary. "It's clear that the Israelis are very eager to do business with Americans."

The mission got off to an uneasy start last Friday when their connecting flight from Newark to Tel Aviv was delayed for 12 hours by technical problems. Like most of the delegates, it was Huebsch's first time in the Holy Land and despite the jet lag the delegates got an intensive tour of Jerusalem and its holy sites the day they arrived.

"There's so much cultural diversity and there's also millenniums of human history," Huebsch said. "It's kind of overwhelming at first."

"There's all kinds of stuff that you hear about growing up and then in your adult life. These places seemed like they were faraway lands that you'll never see, and here you are. It's really fascinating."

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