Situated at the heartland of the U.S., the Midwest has long enjoyed strong business, economic and social ties with Japan. Throughout the years, these engagements and partnerships have brought prosperity to both economies. The bond between the two continues grow stronger through joint efforts from the government and the private sector.
Several U.S. and Japanese organizations are committed to building this relationship, including the Japanese Chamber of Commerce and Industry of Chicago (JCCC), Japan External Trade Organization (JETRO) Chicago, Midwest US-Japan Association, Consulate General of Japan, Japan America Society of Chicago and the State of Illinois.
The JCCC focuses on three main missions, namely member service, educational support, and community commitment. Through these initiatives, corporate and individual members are provided with the business and family assistance they need. The chamber also created the JCCC Foundation as a means of giving back to the communities they wish to engage with.
“We can’t forget the community. We always look for areas to show our appreciation. Chicago is a great area and Japanese families can adjust very well to the lifestyle here. Plus, the people are nice,” JCCC Executive Director Tetsuro Mitani said.
As one of six branches in the U.S., JETRO Chicago further embraces its ‘Talk to JETRO first” message. JETRO offers a set of unique services and intelligence to Japanese companies looking for successful entry and expansion in the U.S. market. Given the need for a two-way street in trade and investment, the organization also encourages American companies to invest in Japan.
“Japan is part of the social fabric of our state. We need to visit grassroots companies in the Midwest and understand how they view Japan, Japanese companies, and this relationship,” said recently appointed Chief Executive Director Ralph Inforzato, the very first non-Japanese to head a JETRO office anywhere in the world.
Founded over four decades ago, the Midwest US-Japan Association stresses the importance of a broader strategic alliance across the Midwest and encourages friendly competition to make the region more attractive for Japanese investments. The association aims to further cement this commitment with Japan through educational and university partnerships that encourage excellence and provide opportunities to students of the next generation.
“Over the years, we’ve developed a high level of trust and respect. Japan appreciates that we are 50 years strong, and we understand and follow their dogged determination to make it work,” Midwest US-Japan Association Executive Director Marie Gaudette said.
Established in 1930, the Japan America Society of Chicago promotes and creates long-term Japanese-American friendship through cultural events, language classes and top-tier conferences. These initiatives bridge the gap and foster understanding between the local Japanese and American communities in the U.S.
“We promote Japan through our classes and events, and reach many who love and learn to love the Japanese culture. Japanese people may be conservative and it takes [time] to know [them,] but when you do, they become your lifetime friends,” Executive Director Baba Mitsukuni said.
These organizations, including the Consulate General of Japan, believe in the Midwest’s potential for growth and the abundance of opportunities in the region. Across its diverse set of sectors, the Midwest is particularly known for its advanced manufacturing and automotive capabilities. Other promising industries are in the fields of renewable energy, life sciences, and medicine.
Several innovation hubs and incubators have already been created to cater to SMEs, while the present transportation and logistics system ensures ease of movement around the U.S. In addition, the Japanese and the people of the Midwest share the same work ethic and dedication to quality.
“This office is going to celebrate its 120th year; it’s a milestone. Adding to that is the growing business climate in the region. Chicago is a magnet in the Midwest with its diverse economy, center of growth and potential and impressive workforce,” said Consul General Naoki Ito.
The Governor of the State of Illinois shares the same sentiments. Japan’s relationship with the Midwest US is built on mutual benefits, trust and confidence.
Japanese investments into the state helped rebuild it through continual employment and expansive trade, thus creating a better future for even the smallest of towns in the region. To maintain and prolong this relationship, the governor’s office aims to establish more in-depth and solid relationships with the abovementioned Japanese associations to better reach and serve enterprises of all sizes that the enter the region.
“We are a diverse economy; a little bit of everything and it can be confusing for some. So, to build upon these sectors and create strong ecosystems, we rely on partnerships with key organizations with Japan and educate these partnerships about talent and R&D here,” Governor Bruce Rauner said.