TAMPA — Mayor Bob Buckhorn heads to Israel today to talk trade with high-tech companies and join a group presenting a humanitarian aid check to Tampa's sister city on the Mediterranean Sea.
The trip will take 28 people from Tampa to Jerusalem, Tel Aviv and Tampa's sister city, Ashdod, a busy port and tourism hub with a population of more than 200,000.
At every stop, a main focus will be economic development and trade, with meetings scheduled at Ashdod's port, the Better Place electric car plant and a project focused on breaking down biowaste.
Along with administrators traveling separately from the University of South Florida, Buckhorn also will meet with executives from Simbionix, a manufacturer of medical training simulators. "We'll be making the case to them that perhaps they ought to look at establishing a presence here in the Tampa Bay area," Buckhorn said.
It would only make sense, officials say, since USF is building the Center for Advanced Medical Learning and Simulation, or CAMLS, near the Tampa Convention Center. The 90,000-square-foot center will offer training in robot-assisted surgery and other high-tech medical techniques to doctors who travel to Tampa from around the world.
And USF Health physicians already are working with Simbionix to develop what the university says is the first simulation product on the market for laparoscopic hysterectomies, a product that will be tested at CAMLS.
The trip rose from the Tampa Jewish Federation's efforts to raise $108,000 for the city of Ashdod.
"Rather than wiring the money to them and waiting for a thank-you letter, we decided it would be great to give that money in person," said Mark Segel, a spokesman for the federation.
In Ashdod, which tradition credits as the site of the tomb of Jonah, the biblical prophet swallowed by a whale, the money will go toward two projects.
One will renovate a bomb shelter for older residents who are forced to take shelter from rockets fired at Ashdod from the Gaza Strip. The other helps immigrating doctors get settled and licensed to practice medicine in Israel.
The federation also thought it would be good if the mayor could go along, so it worked to line up economic development discussions that would make it worth his while.
"I hope it results in some fruitful new relationships for the city," said City Council member Harry Cohen, one of three city officials going on the trip. The third is City Attorney Jim Shimberg Jr. The city is paying for Buckhorn's travel, while Cohen and Shimberg are each paying their own way.
The delegation, which returns Nov. 22, also will include Tampa business leaders and residents, both Jewish and non-Jewish, members of Tampa's Sister Cities Committee and the Tampa Jewish Federation.
Richard Danielson can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 226-3403.