Home to the city of Gainesville in North Georgia, Hall County already has attracted the Japanese company that employs the most workers in the state.
But as tractor and heavy machinery manufacturer Kubota Manufacturing America Corp.’s recent expansion in the county attest, it pays not to rest on your laurels when dealing with foreign investors, and often the commitments that create the most jobs don’t start out that way.
Kubota’s headquarters in Osaka was a main stop on a Greater Hall Chamber of Commerce delegation to Japan in late July. The chamber also visited other existing Japanese investors and used the opportunity to meet with new prospects, assisted in part by Yumiko Nakazono, the Georgia Department of Economic Development’s longtime representative in Tokyo.
“This business mission was about renewing relationships and establishing new ones,” said Tim Evans, vice president of economic development for the Chamber, in a statement. “These are long-term relationships and our efforts and time to meet with the business leaders in Japan will bring business, jobs and investment for our community.”
Kubota, for its part, has taken its time building up a weighty presence in the community, providing a prime illustration of Japanese firms’ famously long-term outlook on business and economic cycles.
Its newest 500,000-square-foot plant, built just three miles from its longest-operating facility, is just the latest in a nearly 50-year journey in the county that started in 1968.
After hiring nearly 600 more workers, the company will employ nearly 3,000 people in the county, and suppliers like Shintone USA create even more jobs. A big manufacturer also offers a seal of approval for other smaller Japanese investors. Among the county’s other partners are Etori, Tatsumi and American Yazaki.
While greenfield investments grab headlines, it’s long been expansion of existing facilities that brings the most new jobs to the state. That’s why economic development leaders see this sort of trip thanking existing clients as increasingly vital for driving future investment. Metro Atlanta Chamber officials say “after-care” will be a central tenet of a new plan to attract investment to the whole region.
“Gainesville-Hall County is known as a community that can support the operational needs of Japanese-owned businesses as well as the quality of life desired by Japanese managers for their families,” said Brian Rochester of Rochester & Associates, who chairs of the chamber’s economic development council and participated in the mission.
To build on this momentum, Gainesville will participate in the Japan-America Grassroots Summit in October, which will bring leaders from Japan-America societies around the country and in Japan to Georgia to talk about building stronger people-to-people ties. The city is one of 15 across the state that will host Japanese visitors for the summit, which averages 200 attendees traveling across the Pacific every two years.
Georgia is home to nearly 500 Japanese companies by some counts. The state has had an office in the country since 1973.
Hall County leaders said their Japanese counterparts assured them that workforce development efforts at Lanier Technical College, including apprenticeship programs designed to meet the needs of manufacturers, were moving in the right direction.
The county also could soon have a few more Japanese speakers. The University of North Georgia, which has a campus in Gainesville, in May received a $400,000 grant from the Japan Foundation to add the language to those supported as a concentration within an East Asian studies program that also allows students to choose Chinese or Korean.
Participants on the Gainesville-Hall County business mission included:
- Perry Barnett, CPA – Rushton
- Brian Daniel – Carroll Daniel Construction
- Tim Evans – Greater Hall Chamber of Commerce
- Jimbo Floyd – Turner, Wood & Smith Insurance
- David Lee – Jackson EMC
- Brian Rochester – Rochester & Associates