German Firm Won't Send Reps to 'Unsafe' Kiryat Gat

The damage to businesses from Operation Cast Lead isn't over: A new sugar refining facility at the Sugat plant in Kiryat Gat can't go online because the technicians for the equipment manufacturer are still avoiding the "unsafe" south. Sugat CEO David Franklin told TheMarker yesterday that company officials say they'll send the technicians to the plant only after Israel and Hamas sign a cease-fire agreement.

Franklin said he suspects the German company is motivated by political interests. "When they sold us the equipment they didn't think they were selling it to Switzerland," he said, adding that the dozen or so foreign experts whose services are required to upgrade the plant's operations continue to operate in Israel although now they stay in Tel Aviv hotels rather than in Ashkelon, as they did before the military operation.

Sugat, which is controlled by Britain's ED & F Man, is in the final stages of putting online a new sugar refining facility that cost $65 million to build plus several million dollars more for the machinery. The company has not requested aid from the Industry, Trade and Labor Ministry's Investments Center, even though the plant's location in National Priority Area A makes it eligible for a 24% grant on machinery, equipment and installation costs.

In recent months the company has hired 40 employees, as part of its expansion of operations, some of them from the city's shuttered Polgat textiles facility. Sugat's sales exceeded $100 million last year.