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
Editor’s note: Global Atlanta traveled to Japan in mid-October for a reporting trip bookended by the SEUS-Japan conference and a reception celebrating the 50th anniversary of the state’s office in Tokyo.
In addition to its staying power, the office has enjoyed remarkable consistency since 1989, when Yumiko Nakazono joined as a young associate. Five years later she took up the director role and stayed until her retirement a little over a year ago.
Since then, Joseph Huntemann, a former Georgia Department of Economic Development senior project manager with Japanese language and cultural skills honed through meticulous study and work at the Japanese consulate general in Atlanta, has helmed the office.
While it’s one of Georgia’s 12 outposts around the world, the Japan post is particularly vital given the long-term relationship and the influence of some 400 Japanese companies. These subsidiaries sustain more than 40,000 jobs, making Japan the state’s top investor nation by employment.
After our return from Japan, where Mr. Huntemann was busy coordinating a packed itinerary for the Georgia delegation, we asked him via email to reflect on his role, the trip and how it will set Georgia up in the near future — or perhaps for the next half-century.
Global Atlanta: How have you been settling into the new role? What has it been like being the face of the state in Japan? What will be the biggest hurdles for you as a non-Japanese person in this role?
Mr. Huntemann: First and foremost, the Japanese value close relationships and ongoing dialogue. Meeting directly with companies, showing them that we understand their business situation and circumstances both in Japan and overseas, and devoting the proper time and attention are paramount.
The biggest hurdle has been balancing time across the sheer number of companies with which we work, as both existing and future Georgia companies. As a non-Japanese person, being aware of the non-verbal and contextual communication that is occurring in our meetings is probably the greatest challenge.
Fortunately, we also have a new Trade and Investment Manager who was hired locally in addition to myself. Yuumi Mochizuki has been with the Tokyo office since 2020, when she began handling office management tasks under Yumiko Nakazono. After Yumiko retired in March 2021, Yuumi stepped in and managed all of the day-to-day operations of the office while COVID travel restrictions prevented me from arriving in Japan. She kept the office going for over a year, until I landed in Tokyo in April 2022.
What were some of the highlights of this week for you at SEUS and beyond? How will the visits made this week set you up in the months to come for follow-up with companies?
Seeing the results of the state’s long-term efforts and hearing directly from company representatives about their positive experiences with Georgia on both business and personal levels were highlights, as was seeing the extended cultural and personal bonds that were made possible between Georgians and Japanese thanks to that commitment.
Our visits were a combination of old relationships and new. Tying them all together under this umbrella has provided a platform to engage on both a wider and a deeper level in coming months, especially as we bring in more partners to provide solutions across a range of topics such as workforce, logistics and regulatory environment.
For Japanese firms, which seem to value long-range planning, how important is the 50th anniversary milestone in showing that Georgia is committed to the market? How was the event used to rekindle old connections?
The 50th anniversary comes at a time when the U.S.-Japan relationship is transforming yet again. Japan has just recently opened up from its COVID restrictions, there are geopolitical events affecting both countries in unprecedented ways, and domestic shifts on both sides are requiring a rethinking of what used to be “common sense” in doing business.
This background underscores the need for stable, reliable partners, and shows how critical Georgia’s commitment to Japan is. After a four-year hiatus, being able to gather people from business, government and cultural backgrounds together for this anniversary doesn’t merely say, “We’re back!” It says, “We’re always here!”
What role does the Georgia-kai (the club of returned Japanese expats) play in the state’s outreach to existing and new industries? How will you balance prospecting for new companies with serving existing firms that are planning expansions?
The Georgia-kai grew out of a gathering of Japanese expats who spent time together in Georgia. They all love Georgia and the time they spent working and living in the state. While our connection is very informal, there is no doubt that their members are some of the best ambassadors for the Georgia brand among the Japanese business community. It’s one thing for me to describe what work and life is in Georgia as our representative, but it’s quite another to hear from a fellow Japanese businessperson how things are on the ground.
For the same reason, I don’t view it as a balance between serving existing firms and prospecting for new companies. Making sure that the needs of our existing industries are met is the surest, best way to continue recruiting new companies to the state. While we need to make sure we are in front of new companies looking to enter the U.S. or expand their U.S. presence in the Southeast, they have to know that we are not only saying we take care of our businesses, but actually see it in the success of others who have come before.
We saw Yumiko honored for her work with the state over more than 30 years. What did that say to you about the legacy that you’re building upon?
It says to me that I am standing on the shoulders of giants! Yumiko Nakazono made it her life’s work to promote Georgia in Japan. It is both daunting and an honor to know that I’ve been entrusted with maintaining such a legacy.
Even now we have an amazing support base with Yuumi. As Investment and Trade Manager, she works not only with investment projects, but also helps to connect native Georgia businesses to the Japanese market. She brings a wide range of skills from her background in sales here in Japan, along with an incredible work ethic. Her knowledge and skillset are critical to the success of our office.
Ambassador Emanuel said that 21 governors have come to Japan — is Georgia worried about the competition now that Japan seems to be on everyone’s dance card?
First of all, I’m glad that so many states are recognizing how important Japan is to the U.S. economy. That connection benefits every state in the long run. Strengths and competitiveness don’t change based on visits, though, and Japanese businesses are thorough in their evaluations of investment projects. Just recently, we were ranked the No. 1 State for Business by Area Development for the 10th year in a row. At the end of the day, the factors that have consistently propelled us to that ranking will be what determines where companies invest.
You were with Commissioner Pat Wilson in Konu/Miyoshi, visiting the Jimmy Carter Civic Center and ringing the Friendship Bell that hangs in the place where the Peace Bell on the site of the Carter Center originated. Some might see this as a bit of a departure for economic development professionals, but how do you see such cultural events tying in with business, especially in Japan? How important is the role of the Japan-America Society of Georgia and people like Busbee Award honoree Jessica Cork, YKK’s vice president of community engagement and communications?
Especially when making investment decisions in an overseas market, businesses need to know that the people at their chosen location understand them and their needs. These kinds of interactions show that not only do we have the right business environment, but we have the cultural fluency to translate it into success for them after they locate. Organizations like JASG and people like Jessica Cork provide critical links to companies and their leadership, bridging that gap between business and daily life that we call “community.” Without the presence of a thriving community, succeeding in business can be extremely difficult.
Any other reflections you’d like to share with us?
Mainly that after over a year here on the ground, there is still much work to be done! Looking back on how much the state and my predecessors have accomplished, the scale of the work ahead comes into full view. But there is no better team to tackle it than the combination of the Georgia Department of Economic Development, our companies, and our non-business partners.