Haifa, formerly an important stronghold of the British Empire in the Mediterranean, has known a negative net migration in the past 15 years. But now it is undergoing a real revolution - making it a city to watch for business opportunities in 2011

Haifa, seen from the Carmel

Israel’s third city has a hi-tech plan

PUBLISHED IN |  Nov 20, 10

Haifa, one of the British Empire’s most important strongholds in the Mediterranean until the Second World War, and now Israel’s third largest city, has been in steady decline for the past few decades. Despite its spectacular positioning between the lush Carmel mountains and the sea, a negative net migration was recorded in the past 15 years. Even its two reputable universities couldn’t offset the trend and the young fled to Tel Aviv.

But a massive head-to-toe regeneration effort is starting to have an impact – from scaffolding and cranes around town, to renovated façades and to new smart places to eat. The municipality has spent more than $350m (€250m) on infrastructure and roads, and the number of building permits has risen 83 per cent in the last two years. According to the municipality, 2009 was the first to show positive net migration into the city.

A crucial ingredient in the remaking of the city is the Carmel Tunnel, a $400m (€286m) project due to open at the end of 2010. The 6km tunnel connects the southwestern part of the city with its northeastern part, cutting dramatically the amount of time needed to cross town.

In addition, a light train will start operating in haifa in 2011, and a cable car connecting the bay area with the two universities atop the Carmel will be ready in 2013. “The overall agenda of the city renewal plan is to reconnect the city with its biggest asset, the sea,” says Mayor Yona Yahav. And indeed, the port’s waterfront, which was used for warehouses and became a hotbed of crime, is now rebuilt for residential and commercial purposes. Avi Bitan, an education entrepreneur, has opened the Center for Academic Studies 200m from the shore. A branch of Haifa University is also located in this new port Campus, and the plan is to turn the 100,000 sq m plot into a main trade, leisure and tourism centre.

Opportunities here include the hightech and bio-tech sectors, says Yahav, and companies can rely on a skilled workforce from Israel’s Institute of Technology located in Haifa. A few thousand engineers already work here for Google, Yahoo! and Intel, and these in turn have prompted the need for a sophisticated hospitality sector. A few boutique hotels have launched and Moran peleg, manager for Villa Carmel, says that occupancy for her 16-room hotel is a steady 75 per cent.