Communities around Georgia looking to attract Japanese investment should learn one thing — patience — while forgetting much of what they’ve done while wooing other international prospects.
That was the consensus among economic development experts on a Japan-America Society of Georgia panel discussion on attracting Japanese firms to the state.
“Communities need to realize that Japanese project is unlike any other international project,” said Tom Croteau, senior managing director of Charlotte, N.C.-based Maxis Advisors, who formerly served as Georgia’s deputy commissioner for global commerce.
Europeans, and even Chinese and Korean executives to an extent, he said, are vocal about the issues they encounter during the project phase.
“You will probably know, within the first five minutes what that issue is, and they’re not afraid to speak up to tell you to negotiate directly,” he said.
Japanese investors are much less direct.
“I would say we need to do less talking, less selling, and much more listening and much more asking of questions,” Mr. Croteau said. “And if that’s not done, there’s a good chance that you’ll get cut. And you’ll never even know the reason that you got cut, unfortunately.”
Watch the full event below:
His main advice — listening — echoes the central theme of a previous panel the society hosted on retaining existing Japanese firms and helping them expand. Being proactive can be the difference between ascertaining and fixing a problem and having a dissatisfied investor, Mr. Croteau said.
That’s true during the attraction phase as well, said Shelly Carmichael, senior manager of client services with Maxis, who said it’s important to help Japanese firms negotiate for the tax and site incentives states might be inclined to put on the table.
“In some cases, they might feel like negotiating for incentives might come across as disrespectful or distasteful. I think the most important thing that we can tell them … is that pursuing incentives, and having incentives offered from state and local governments, is very common, and it’s actually expected here,” Ms. Carmichael said.
Mr. Croteau added that for Japanese firms, which often take a longer view than other investors, incentives are about more than just dollars and cents.
“For Japanese companies, it’s not about the biggest number. It’s about what is the best location, and who can really partner with us, like family, to solve problems,” he said.
Georgia is already home to some 600 Japanese facilities, more than 150 which are manufacturing plants spanning the furthest reaches of the state, so it’s not as if firms have failed to find their way.
But speakers said this progress is a testament to Georgia’s consistent presence in Japan, operating an office in Tokyo for more than 45 years and taking every chance possible to bring delegations, often led by the sitting governor. Georgia was the host to the Southeast U.S.-Japan alliance conference in 2019 and was planning to take a team to this year’s edition in Tokyo before the pandemic postponed it until 2021.
As the Japanese investment pie grows, more communities are benefiting from opportunity these projects bring: more than 39,000 jobs have been created by Japanese companies in Georgia to date — three-fourths of them in manufacturing, according to a survey by the Consulate General of Japan in Atlanta cited during the discussion.
The state leads its peers in the region in almost every category concerning Japanese investment except in capital committed — Alabama pulled ahead last year $13.7 billion to $11.6 billion with Toyota-Mazda committing to a massive plant near Huntsville, according to the consulate’s figures.
In addition to having a consistent presence in Japan and investing in relationships, communities must think of ways to help prospects feel at home. Economic developers should cultivate relationships with Japanese-speaking construction firms and bond or immigration attorneys, Mr. Croteau said, while surveying their assets: anything from a beautiful golf course to an industrial park with an environmental bent, like the one in Griffin, Ga., that has attracted at least five Japanese firms already.
“Those international businessmen and women really need to feel like they’re part of an ecosystem of support,” he added.
Georgia Power Business Recruitment Director Charles Stallworth said that beyond the standard infrastructure needs, most companies are looking for communities where they can kickstart operations quickly.
“When companies pull the trigger, they’re ready to go, and anything that community — rural or metro or whatever –can do to decrease that time to market that gives them a leg up,” he said.
Georgia’s lead investment recruiter in Japan, Yumiko Nakazono, gave an overview of the state’s long-term strategy and described how she focuses on establishing relationships with the teams researching the location decision, helping them make their case to their superiors that Georgia will be the optimal location.
Ms. Nakazono outlined the strategy more fully in a recent Global Atlanta interview conducted after the announcement that she would step down after serving the state for nearly 30 years.
The panelists had nothing but good things to say about her announced replacement: Joseph Huntemann.
“I leaned on him very heavily, during you know, many times working with Japanese companies, and when we were in Japan,” Mr. Croteau said. “I can think of no better person who is really up for the task, and who is 1,000 percent in on being the next person for the state of Georgia over there. And Georgia, once again, is very lucky to have somebody like Joseph to step into Yumiko’s shoes.”
While Mr. Huntemann hsa been widely praised for his cultural savvy, Daraka Satcher of Taylor English Decisions, the law firm’s government affairs consulting arm, which has been instrumental in creating the Georgia Japan Caucus in the state legislature.
Mr. Satcher has been spending his time persuading community leaders and legislators that global investment recruitment is not just the realm of die-hard internationalists.
“This is not a conversation just for those who are interested in Japan or can speak Japanese. This is about some real returns to our state. And I have to hyper-emphasize that because because a lot of times folks just think that that this is this is kind of a segment it’s siloed conversation that we’re having here. It is not at all.”
Learn more about the Japan-America Society of Georgia here.