It wasn’t long after studying American literature and English language in college that Yumiko Nakazono set about putting her cultural understanding into action.
Herself a “southerner,” hailing from Georgia’s sister prefecture of Kagoshima on the southern tip of the island of Kyushu, Ms. Nakazono joined the state’s Tokyo office in 1989 after a stint in the private sector.
Five years later, she was tapped to lead the outpost, which had been recruiting Japanese investors to the state since it launched in 1973 under then-Gov. George Busbee.
Ms. Nakazono quietly went about her business, but she played an integral role in bringing companies that have created tens of thousands of jobs for her adoptive state, where Japanese firms employ more than 30,000 Georgians. Among her signature projects are Komatsu Forklift, Nisshinbo Brake, Yanmar, Toyo Tire, Mitsubishi Heavy Industries and many more.
“I’d like to express my sincere thanks and appreciation to the state of Georgia and to the people I have worked with over the past 31-plus years. I’m proud of the more than 500 Japanese companies that call Georgia home and wish them continued success,” said Ms. Nakazono in a news release. “I’ve had so many memories and valuable learning experiences because of the irreplaceable opportunity and environment I’ve been given and the wonderful people I have worked with, both internally and externally.”
For Georgia, investing in Japanese ties continues to pay off, often for decades after the initial deal.
Even amid the difficulties of COVID-19 and the complexities of the current bilateral relationship, Japanese firms have consistently doubled (or tripled — or more) down on their engagements with the state. Just this week, two Japanese firms have announced their intent to expand, with F&P in Floyd County doing so for the sixth time in 20 years.
Ms. Nakazono’s term will come to a close at the end of February after more than three decades offering unprecedented consistency at one of the most vibrant of the state’s 12 international offices. She noted that she would continue to feel like part of the Georgia team even as she moves on.
In a news release, Georgia Department of Economic Development Commissioner Pat Wilson called her a “steady force” and thanked her for her friendship, while Gov. Brian Kemp noted her service to the state and celebrated the “opportunities our Tokyo office has created for Georgia.”
Ms. Nakazono will be succeeded by Joseph Huntemann, a senior project manager on the department’s Global Commerce team who is fluent in Japanese and formerly worked for the Consulate General of Japan in Atlanta.
Mr. Huntemann will move to Japan to take up the role March 1. Well respected for his cross-cultural skills, he recently joined a Japan-America Society of Georgia webinar to talk about the importance of listening between the lines to avoid misunderstandings in the process of recruiting or retaining Japanese firms.
Mr. Huntemann has worked on a variety of manufacturing projects all over the state, from Marukan and Rinnai in Griffin to Nippon Light Metal in Cartersville and Toyota Industrial in Pendergrass.
That will be an asset in a country where much of the investment comes in the form of new or expanded factories, particularly in the automotive sector.
“As I look forward to continuing to carry out our mission of creating jobs and opportunities from Tokyo, I thank Yumiko Nakazono for her guidance and the example she has set,” said Mr. Huntemann, who also holds an international affairs degree from the Sam Nunn School of International Affairs at Georgia Tech.
Ms. Nakazono’s institutional knowledge will indeed be hard to replace.
During a Global Atlanta visit in 2011 to Tokyo, she showed a reporter her “On My Mind” newsletter, a publication devoted to keeping then 1,000 members of the Georgia Club of Japan updated on the happenings in the state.
Most of the readers were Japanese returnees from expatriate assignments, who had often commissioned factories in Georgia and built up sales before turning them over to local leadership.
U.S. Department of Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue, who was Georgia governor from 2003-11 and worked with Ms. Nakazono on many trade missions to Japan, said she was a “world-class representative” that also opened doors for Georgia’s exports, which totaled $1.5 billion in 2019.
“I was especially proud to present the Governor George Busbee Award to Yumiko in 2007, which recognizes an individual who has contributed towards building ever stronger relationships between Japan and Georgia. It is only because of the efforts of people like Yumiko Nakazono that our nation’s exports reach welcoming new markets,” Mr. Perdue said in the state’s news release this week.
Global Atlanta has reached out to Ms. Nakazono to gain further reflections on her time representing the state in Japan and will publish the interview upon receiving her responses.
2011 — Interviewed after the Tohoku earthquake: Georgia Connections Affected by Japan Earthquake
Profile of Ms. Nakazono’s work: Georgia in Japan: New Era, Same Goal
Video interview in 2013: