Alan Ganek, IBM’s Vice-President for Technical Strategy and Worldwide Operations, flew into Israel to lay the cornerstone for IBM-Israel Science and Technology Ltd. and Haifa Research Laboratory on the campus of the University of Haifa.
The 11,000 sq. m. R&D center, which is being constructed at an initial cost of $13 million, is expected to be completed within two years.
The Haifa Lab is outgrowing its current location, said Ganek, noting that IBM is celebrating the 50th anniversary of its operations in Israel.
Amongst those participating in the cornerstone ceremony were IBM Israel President Meir Nissensohn and Gavyam President Hanan Nitzan.
The decision to move to the campus of the University of Haifa was based on a simple goal. “We wanted a world-class facility for world-class technology.”
IBM already has some of its people teaching at the University, and in future “students will work with us so that they’ll benefit and we’ll benefit,” said Ganek.
Listing a range of IBM projects completed by the Haifa Lab, such as the optical character recognition system used to count votes in the last elections, as well as a mail sorting system for the Postal Authority, a storage and retrieval system for Sheba Hospital and a reservations system for El Al, Ganek expressed confidence that IBM can continue its important work for Israel in the next millennium.
He forecast that “collaborative scientific work will increase significantly” and that the new IBM R&D Center will provide employments and mentoring for many of the students.
It is IBM strategy to reach out globally and identify living areas of creativity, he said. Other IBM R&D centers are located in India, China and Japan, but the largest outside the US will be the center under construction on the University campus.
Ganek was welcomed by Gil Weiser, Chairman of the University’s executive committee, who also happens to be president of Hewlett-Packard Israel, which in some spheres is an IBM rival.
Stressing the importance of multinationals in Israel, especially in light of the fact that there are some 3,000 start-ups in the country, Weiser recalled that the pioneers were Motorola, Intel, IBM and Digital.
IBM’s presence on campus he said would elevate the University in computer sciences and associated fields.
University President Yehuda Hayuth told Ganek: “We are glad that IBM has recognized the potential of our University and has offered us the opportunity to advance our computer science program.”
Dr. Michael Rodeh, Director of the IBM Research Laboratory in Haifa, was clearly delighted by the new development. IBM has had several different homes in Israel, he said, “but we look forward to this building, which is our own style.
We started at the Technion and moved out. Now we’re moving back to a university campus which is very dear to our hearts.”
Haifa mayor Amram Mitzna, who throughout his six years in office has been working towards the construction of an IBM center on the University campus, observed wryly that while the whole world has heard of IBM, not many people have heard of Haifa. The new partnership, he said, would help to put Haifa on the map.
Mitzna was justifiably proud that “Haifa is the only site on earth where the three largest American hi-tech firms - Intel, Microsoft and IBM - chose to build their research facilities.
Looking towards a more peaceful future when there will “hopefully” be open borders from Israel to Lebanon and Syria, Mitzna predicted that the new IBM R&D Center on the University campus would eventually benefit the whole region.