Global Atlanta is on the ground in Japan Oct. 11-18 covering a Georgia mission to the country for the SEUS-Japan conference and a later reception marking 50th anniversary of the state's office in Tokyo, with company interviews and side trips in between. The law firm of Baker Donelson is the presenting sponsor of this Japan Dispatch, providing financial support to make the reporting trip possible. Learn more about Baker Donelson's Global Business Team: Japan
TOKYO — If the Southeast U.S.-Japan Alliance ever needs a rallying cry to justify the continued relevance of its annual conference, Parliamentary Vice Minister Nobuhiro Yoshida may have delivered it Friday.
In just the seven states whose delegations traveled across the world to attend the event in Japan for the first time in five years, 1,700-plus Japanese establishments supported more than 186,000 jobs in 2021, the last year for which data have been released. That same year, the stock of Japanese investment in the U.S. stood at $721 billion.
That means the Southeast region is on the receiving end of about 20 percent of the some 930,000 Japan-supported jobs across the United States, and the bulk of those positions (534,100) are in manufacturing. Studies show that for every job on the factory floor, many more are created downstream in sales, suppliers and logistics.
According to the Japan External Trade Organization, another solid sign that the impact is even greater than the foreign investment numbers indicate is that Japanese firms account for 5.3 percent of all U.S. exports, a huge proportion from one country that shows how trade and investment tend to be interlinked.
During the opening ceremonies, heads of delegation for the Southern states for the most part dueled with statistics to show both their gratitude and their achievements.
As repetitive as the facts and figures became, they did serve to reinforce a key point: Japan is indispensable for these states’ economies, and what happens to companies on this side of the world reverberates into the homes of Southerners.
Below is a glimpse of each state’s snapshot of its Japan ties, seasoned with moments of levity that emerged in what was sometimes a rote recitation of each state’s FDI bona fides.
Head of Delegation: Greg Canfield, Secretary of Commerce
Japanese facilities: 90 — Japanese auto suppliers have invested $10 billion in the state since Honda opened the floodgates in 1999 with the first assembly plant.
Jobs created: 25,000
Selected companies: Honda, Toyota, Mazda, Daikin, Toray, YKK
Deeper impact: Toyota USA recently donated $7 million to city schools in Huntsville to boost the area’s STEM workforce
Quotable: Fried green tomatoes served in lieu of a Japanese dinner helped seal the deal for a prospect eyeing a location in Alabama’s Jasper County. The Japanese executive unexpectedly loved the Southern delicacy and even took a box home from the prospect dinner.
“For me, this episode underscores why all of us here must continue to strive to ensure that this harmonious partnership continues to flourish well into the future.”-Greg Canfield, Alabama Secretary of Commerce
Head of Delegation: Pat Wilson, Commissioner, Georgia Department of Economic Development
Japanese facilities: 400+
Jobs created: 40,000+
Selected companies: YKK, Murata, Takeda, Denkai (coming soon), Toyo Tire, Yakult, Kubota, Mitsubishi Power
Deeper impact: Georgia is celebrating 50 years of its office in Tokyo this week.
“What America sees as science fiction is what Japan is living today. While the Southeast builds its EV and battery ecosystem, hydrogen vehicles are already making an impact here. It’s an incredible opportunity for us to learn from each other.”-Pat Wilson, commissioner of the Georgia Department of Economic Development
Head of Delegation: Laura Hipp, Deputy Director of The Mississippi Development Authority (and the only woman on stage)
Deeper impact: Japanese firms have invested more than $1.5 billion over five years in the state, the only one that’s home to both Nissan, which is building an electric vehicle factory in the state, and Toyota which opened a plant in 2011. Mississippi exports to Japan increased by 60 percent in the past year.
Selected companies: Yokohama (truck tires), Toyota, Nissan
Quotable: “How they ordered the weather: I want tips,” she said on a beautiful October day in Tokyo, later offering an itinerary for future visitors to Mississippi:
“If you ever find yourself in Tupelo, Miss., after you’ve visited Elvis’s birthplace, please head to the Toyota Mississippi Experience Center. There, you can spend the afternoon and truly understand what goes into the making of one of the world’s best selling vehicles, the Corolla.”-Laura Hipp
Head of Delegation: Harry Lightsey, Secretary of Commerce
Japanese investment: $1.505 billion since 2017
Exports: $758 million
Deeper impact: Scout Motors, yet another auto maker modernizing a classic brand into an electric model, is coming to South Carolina, along with AESC, a Japanese battery company set up to supply BMW’s $1.7 billion EV plant in the state.
Selected companies: Bridgestone, Honda, Teijin Ltd., Toray Industries, American Fujikawa, JTEKT North America
Quotable: Lightsey was the only delegation head to use Japanese on stage, both opening and closing his speech in the language. He also added this in English:
“We are also becoming a pivotal place for clean energy, life sciences, artificial intelligence and more. It’s these types of projects that show companies from across the United States and around the world that South Carolina and the Southeast have the business climate and talented workforce in place to produce a diverse range of cutting edge products.”-Harry Lightsey
Head of Delegation: Stuart McWhorter, Commissioner, Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development
Japanese facilities: 200+
Jobs created: 60,000 with $20 billion invested
Deeper Impact: Some 76 of Tennessee’s 95 counties have at least one international subsidiaries.
Selected companies: Nissan (40-year history), Denso, Bridgestone, J-TEKT, along with Kewpie Mayonnaise, a Japanese food firm.
“Competition doesn’t exist just among neighboring states or even within the borders of the U.S. It is on a global scale.”-Stuart McWhorter
Head of Delegation: Gov. Roy Cooper, the only governor to attend the event (other than Florida’s Ron DeSantis during video message). North Carolina will host the next SEUS-Japan conference in Charlotte.
Japanese facilities: 225
Jobs created: 28,000+
Deeper impact: North Carolina is experiencing a massive Japanese investment wave, with $2 billion from Fujifilm Diosynth to make new medicines and nearly $6 billion committed from Toyota for its first lithium-ion battery plant in the United States to make hybrids, plug-ing also electric vehicles.
Selected companies: Aisin, Denso, Morinaga, Toshiba, HondaJet, and more.
“You will find that the people of North Carolina are ready to go to work building things, being part of advanced manufacturing.”Gov. Roy Cooper of North Carolina
Head of delegation: Secretary of State Cord Byrd, with a video message from Gov. Ron DeSantis.
Japanese facilities: 200
Jobs created: 22,400
Deeper impact: Mr. DeSantis traveled to Japan in March to meet with the prime minister, the foreign minister and business leaders. Florida’s remarks, delivered by Mr. Byrd, positioned the state as a gateway to Latin America and the Caribbean.
“From the sunshine state to the land of the rising sun, arigato.”-Cord Byrd
Corrections: A previous version of this article had the wrong location for the pivotal fried green tomatoes stated that Kewpie mayonnaise was locating in South Carolina; it’s actually headed to Tennessee.