Southeastern states have been successful in attracting automotive manufacturing away from its traditional home in the Midwest through economic factors, including incentives and lower labor costs, according to Japanese auto manufacturers at last week’s Japan-Southeast U.S. Joint Meeting in Osaka, Japan.

            But social factors, including the availability of Japanese schooling and supportive legislators, have also played an important role in the attraction and maintenance of Japanese companies to the region, they said.

            Kentucky was quick to learn the importance of “service after the sale” when it succeeded in attracting Toyota Motors North America Inc.’s first wholly owned U.S. plant, according to Barbara McDaniel, media relations manager with the company.

            The state established the Japan Business Advisory Council of Kentucky, comprised of 10 Japanese companies with operations in the state, including Toyota. 

The group meets three times a year with the governor and other state authorities, providing a forum for both small and large Japanese firms to bring up issues as a group that they may be loathe to talk about one-on-one with state officials, she explained.

             Ms. McDaniel also encouraged state governments to pass legislation supporting innovations in the automotive industry.

            Georgia, for example, recently passed a law that allows clean emission vehicles, including electric cars, manned by a single occupant in highway High Occupancy Vehicle (HOV) lanes.  She said she hoped the legislation would be extended in the future to hybrid cars, an area in which Toyota has made strides in recent years.

            And at the community level, Japanese companies at the conference encouraged the establishment of Japanese “Saturday schools,” which help the children of Japanese expatriates retain their culture and language skills.

            A dedicated contact in the community, who can provide Japanese families advice on everything from U.S. culture to driver’s license laws, is also often a great help to the spouses – generally wives – of expatriate Japanese workers, Ms. McDaniel noted.

            Over the long-term, community efforts made for one Japanese company spur the location of additional Japanese firms in the area, according to Yumiko Nakazono, managing director of the Georgia Department of Industry, Trade and Tourism‘s Tokyo office.

            Often, Japanese companies locating operations abroad are happier to set up in areas where an awareness of Japanese culture already exists, she said.  Thus “word-of-mouth” between Japanese firms can be a powerful advertising tool for southeastern states vying for investment, she explained.

            Visit for information about the conference.