Editor’s note: Al Hodge, a professional economic developer with more than 40 years’ experience, is set to contribute his unique perspective on fostering trade and recruiting foreign investment with a new series of columns for Global Atlanta. Mr. Hodge writes about Georgia’s role in trade conversations, global issues and how the state can better foster partnerships in the “two-way street” of international engagement. He was recently elected chair of the Japan-America Society of Georgia.
With the accession to the throne by Crown Prince Naruhito in May, a literal and figurative new era has begun in Japan.
And while the start to the Reiwa Era may seem far removed from Georgia, the stability of Japan’s royal family has given its companies a long-term outlook that has benefited the state immensely over the last half-century.
His Majesty Naruhito follows his father, Emperor Akihito, who announced last year he would step away from the Chrysanthemum Throne.
During the former emperor’s 31-year reign, mutual investment between Georgia and Japan has flourished in their respective countries and communities. Headquarters of Georgia based companies have exported untold quantities of goods and services to Japan: think Coca-Cola, Delta Air Lines Inc. and Aflac.
Other companies including OTR Wheel Engineering, Gulfstream Aerospace and many professional services firms have conducted much Japanese business.
Japanese companies have zipped, flushed and blazed trails in Georgia, with YKK, TOTO and Suzuki putting down major factories across the state.
Twenty-five years ago, many of these ties were acknowledged with Emperor Akihito’s Official Visit to Atlanta in 1994, proving the vitality of the relationship and setting the stage for decades of future engagement. The emperor visited the King Center, toured Atlanta and met with President Jimmy Carter and then-Gov. Zell Miller.
Recently departed Japanese Consul General Takashi Shinozuka, known to economic developers a ubiquitous and tireless advocate for Southeast U.S.-Japan ties, knew intimately the importance of trips like this.
Before becoming Japan’s top diplomat to the Southeast, Mr. Shinozuka had a special relationship with Emperor Akihito, as he was the Master of Ceremonies and later the Vice Grand Master of Ceremonies on the Emperor’s behalf while working with the Imperial Household Agency in the Imperial Palace.
Recently asked about highlights serving Emperor Akihito, his thoughts turned immediately to the 2009 celebration of the 50th wedding anniversary and the 20th Anniversary of His Majesty’s accession to the throne.
“Japanese residents can anticipate the continuation of all that has been accomplished during the 31 years of the Heisei Era,” the consul general said. “His Majesty has fulfilled his duty as the symbol of our Nation, standing with the Japanese people.”
The first global leader who met with the new emperor was U.S. President Donald Trump, building upon a decades long relationship between these nations.
While in Japan, President Trump met with Prime Minister Abe, another strong relationship between allies made all the more important amid simmering defense and trade issues. Negotiations to reach a bilateral trade deal continue as this column goes to press.
The Trump visit occurred in May while I was traveling in Japan with a group of economic development and business leaders hosted by the Japan Foundation.
The Grassroots Exchange Network itinerary — one of three trips hosted this spring to bring influential civic leaders from Georgia and other Southern and Midwestern states to Japan — included visits to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Keidanren business association and the Japan External Trade Organization. The goal was to underscore strong ties and lay the groundwork for continued collaboration. A recent JETRO survey revealed that more than half of Japanese companies in the U.S. are planning expansions.
During a brief stop at the gates of the Imperial Palace in Tokyo, we observed a changing of the guard, a treat that our guide said he had rarely observed during his decades of leading tours there.
What can Georgians anticipate with the changing of emperors — the accession of Emperor Naruhito?
Again, Mr. Shinozuka, the consul general who himself recently made way for a new diplomat to take his place, had this to say:
“The new Emperor will also fulfill his mission. Japan will continue to work in the international community for peace, prosperity and sustainability in the world. Japan also looks forward to strengthening the long steady friendship and partnership with the State of Georgia. The SEUS-Japan meeting to be held in Savannah this October will be another great opportunity to develop our relationship.”
The Japanese tradition for naming a new era with each Emperor gives a clue to the country’s desires for continued engagement with the world.
REIWA, a combination of kanji meaning “Beautiful Harmony,” was taken from Manyoushu, the oldest anthology of the Japanese poetry dating back to the eighth century.
Those of us who have had the pleasure of dealing with Japanese companies and government representatives over many years wish for such harmony to continue flourishing for Emperor Naruhito, Japan and Georgia.
Al Hodge retired as president and CEO of the Rome Floyd County Chamber of Commerce in 2018, founding Hodge Consulting Services to bring his four decades of experience to bear for private clients.
Mr. Hodge has served as the head economic development professional in communities in two states, including Rome and Augusta, Ga., and Charleston, S.C., in addition to his speaking and professional development opportunities across the country and the world. He has led meetings, workshops and formal presentations, and been an active member of delegations to Japan, Italy, China, Canada, France, Germany, England, Spain and Sweden. He has recruited companies from Asia, Europe and more, along with working with South Korean, Swiss and other executives. He takes pleasure in the two-way street of trade and helps numerous U.S.-based companies with exports to countries around the world.
Both statewide economic professional associations – the Georgia Economic Developers Association and the Georgia Association of Chamber of Commerce Executives – have benefitted from Mr. Hodge’s leadership as chairman, as has the Georgia Department of Community Affairs. His leadership on the Georgia Board of Education and the Georgia Northwestern Technical College added to his local experience with education and work force preparation.