Israeli company CEMax's move to Greater Cincinnati was meant to be

'It was a warm feeling'

CINCINNATI — As far as economic development deals go, it's not the region's largest.

But the establishment of an Israeli company's U.S. headquarters here could be the most meant-to-be.

Consider the facts.

Ziv Riezman was thinking about expanding his fast-growing company CEMax to the United States. CEMax helps its corporate clients improve the experiences that customers have with their companies. Already 80 percent of the banks in Israel are its customers, and Riezman knew he needed to look outside his home country to grow his business.

"We felt we needed to open a new, large market. We decided on the States," Riezman said. "The initial reaction was, let's open in New York and live in New Jersey, and this was our initial intention."

But just a week later, Riezman got an email from City Hall in Netanya, Cincinnati's sister city in Israel. The email explained that a delegation from Greater Cincinnati would be visiting Netanya to discuss business opportunities in the Tri-State and invited him to breakfast.

Ziv Riezman

He figured: "Let's go and see what Cincinnati is all about. I only knew that it was in Ohio."

Greater Cincinnati has been focused for several years on recruiting Israeli companies to the region because of the country's reputation for innovation. The Regional Economic Development Initiative, known as REDI Cincinnati, has a whole page on its website that touts the benefits of partnerships between Israeli companies and the Tri-State.

At the breakfast meeting, Riezman got an education about all the Fortune 500 companies located here and the potential for his business to grow.

"It opened our minds to see and explore and maybe not go to the straightforward solution everybody makes," he said.

Before long, Riezman and his wife, Liat, had decided to come to Cincinnati to see for themselves. They visited in October 2014. Tammy Riddle, a business development manager with REDI, arranged three days of meetings, tours and dinners with local Jewish families.

Tammy Riddle

"It was a wonderful three days," Riezman said. "We met with families, businesses, saw the school, saw the Jewish Community Center. It was a warm feeling that I think just on the plane heading back we said, 'this is a place the kids would enjoy. I could open the U.S. branch and get friends and get the help we need in order to start the business rolling.'"

The decision was made. But there were plenty more signs later that the CEMax move to the Cincinnati region was meant to be.

'Warm Connections'

It took about eight months to prepare Riezman's business in Israel for the transition and make the arrangements to move Riezman's family. He and his wife have three children and a dog to consider, after all.

All the while, they kept in touch with their contacts in Cincinnati and met with people from the region who visited Israel for business or REDI recruiting trips.

They enrolled their children — ages 12, 8 and 6 — to attend Rockwern Academy starting last August, even though their visas had not yet been approved.

Moving the whole family, Riezman said, was "not an easy decision to make. But we knew in our heart it was the right decision."

The Riezman family

From a business perspective, Riezman found what other Israeli businesses have discovered, too, said Avi Ram, chief operating officer for the Jewish Federation of Cincinnati. He has been instrumental in helping the Riezmans get settled here.

"What Cincinnati has to offer is warm connections," Ram said. "People are open. People are willing to meet with you. To me, that's one very important pillar on which you want to build your business."

The community itself has been welcoming to Israeli families, too, he said.

"You relocate for business, but you always want to go back home," Ram said. "Here, there's that 'home' feeling. It's easy living here. It's nice. It's comfortable."

He added: "The business is what brings you in, and the community is what makes it stick."

Avi Ram

That's a key part of recruiting international companies, Riddle said — helping the people in charge of those businesses make the connections that will help them succeed professionally and personally.

"People do business with who they like," she said. "And we have a lot of nice people here and very smart business men and women here, too."

That's where more of that meant-to-be comes into Riezman's story.

One of the people he and his wife had dinner with on their very first visit — a Jewish executive with the Procter & Gamble Co. — turned out to be his older son's basketball coach at Rockwern Academy.

He met Riezman's two boys and introduced himself during a visit to Israel and even shot some hoops with them there to make them comfortable, Riddle said.

And the family who lived in the Riezmans' Sycamore Township home right before they did had hosted an exchange student from Netanya years earlier.

As if those connections weren't enough, there is the LeBron selfie.

From New Kid to Social Celebrity

During a break in the action at the Cleveland Cavaliers' October exhibition game at Xavier University's Cintas Center, NBA superstar LeBron James took a picture of himself and about a dozen kids in the stand.

The phone he used belonged to Riezman's older son, Roy, the boy in the gold shirt who is smiling a giant smile in the photo.

 

LeBron James taking the infamous selfie.

How much more meant-to-be could the Riezman family's move have been?

"That made Ziv's son a social celebrity," Riddle said.

Now Riezman is helping to spread the word back in Israel about what a welcoming place Cincinnati has been for his company and his family.

Riddle is heading back to Israel on Jan. 22 for another recruiting trip. She will be meeting with companies that visited Cincinnati in October and with another couple that Riezman referred to her.

"We're not there just for a trip," Riddle said. "We're establishing long-term relationships."

And those relationships must work professionally and personally, Ram said.

"If the business is unsuccessful, there's no reason to be here," Ram said. "But once you're here, you don't want to pay a big price to your personal life."

If Riezman's experience is any indication, Cincinnati has plenty to offer Israeli companies looking for a place to land in the U.S.

Just as long as they aren't all expecting LeBron selfies as part of the deal.

Lucy May writes about the people, places and issues that define our region – to celebrate what makes the Tri-State great and also shine a spotlight on issues we need to address. To read more stories by Lucy, go to www.wcpo.com/may. To reach her, email lucy.may@wcpo.com. Follow her on Twitter @LucyMayCincy.

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