By David Eggert, Associated Press

LANSING (AP) – When Gov. Rick Snyder last visited Israel 14 years ago, he was a venture capitalist looking to invest in startups. Now, he’s asking Israeli companies and government leaders to consider doing business in Michigan.

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The country of 8 million people is excelling in high-tech research and development, Snyder said, but has a very small marketplace.

“In many respects they want to come to the U.S. to sell things and potentially make things,” he told The Associated Press on Monday in a phone interview from Israel, where he is in the midst of his fifth international trade trip.

There’s no reason why Michigan cannot be a “bridge” for Israeli businesses to enter the U.S. marketplace, Snyder said. He’s hopeful for not only sales and marketing opportunities in Michigan but also the potential for Israeli products to be made in the state.

Snyder on Monday met separately with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and trade minister Naftali Bennett. He signed a letter of intent between Michigan and Israel to cooperate in industrial research and development.

He also visited General Motors’ Advanced Technical Center in Herzliya, one of three GM research centers in the world.

Industries he had met with or plans to meet with include automotive, life sciences, water, IT, and defense/aerospace. Since arriving Saturday night, he has spent time primarily in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem but also plans to visit Nazareth, Haifa and the Galilee region before returning to Michigan on Saturday. He also will attend a celebration of Israeli President Shimon Peres’ 90th birthday.

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Snyder said Michigan’s exports and imports with Israel rank among the top 20 states. It also helps that Michigan has a strong Jewish community, particularly in metropolitan Detroit, he said. The trip was organized in part by the Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Detroit.

“They’ve made tremendous progress in terms of economic growth here in in Israel,” Snyder said. “It’s much more developed in terms of the business community, the success of the country. They’ve been growing at like a five percent pace over the last several years.”

While Israeli auto executives know what Michigan has to offer, he said, executives in other industries are less familiar with the state, the Great Lakes and the Upper Midwest.

The trade trip is Snyder’s first to the Middle East. Costs are being covered through donations to the Michigan Economic Development Foundation, a nonprofit supporting the state’s economic development efforts.

Former Gov. Jennifer Granholm led an investment mission to Israel and Jordan in 2008.

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