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Japanese trailblazers in the Carolinas

   Dec 15, 2018
Credit : GMI Post

As one of the major foreign contributors to the United States, Japan has been an integral part of the development of the American economy. And with more Japanese companies eager to invest in the U.S. market, many look to the first Japanese investors who ventured into this then-untapped market.

Established in Mooresville, North Carolina in 1988, NGK Ceramics USA manufactures ceramic substrates that reduce toxic emissions from automotive engines. In the three decades since, the company has gone through 15 expansions and now employs 900 people.

“I was one of the first people here when we opened. Our first three years alone were spent fixing the plant and getting it ready for operation. Now, we’re the largest manufacturing employers here,” NGK Ceramics USA President Stephen Dailey said. 

Among the company’s major milestones as it marks its 30th anniversary was the production of its 300 millionth ceramic substrate.

AFL President and CEO Jody Gallagher

“The growth and journey that NGK Ceramics has experienced in North Carolina is really astounding. We initially chose this location because of its strategic fit with our operations and now I can proudly say that it was a key factor in our success,” Dailey said.

As one of the first Japanese companies to locate in the region, NGK Ceramics has also played a role in attracting other Japanese investors to the area.

“It’s important for us to spread the word about the advantages this state has to offer. We have a close relationship with the community here and we’re appreciative of their help in our growth as a company. In return, we want to be ambassadors for them,” Dailey said.

Meanwhile in Duncan, South Carolina, AFL produces fiber optic cables and related products and associated equipment for telecommunication giants like AT&T. Founded in 1984, the company generates more than $1 billion annually and provides over 900 jobs for the state.

Looking forward to its 35th anniversary in 2019, AFL reflects on its growth in Upstate South Carolina.

“This location was ideal for our business because of the talented workforce available and the proximity of other fiber optic companies. There was also a projected growth in the Southeast region. All of these factors pointed to South Carolina as a good area for investment,” AFL President and CEO Jody Gallagher said.

Satoru Ogawa, Vice Chairman of AFL and Japan-America Society of Georgia

Since then, the company has opened five locations in the Duncan region and emerged an industry leader in the telecommunication, energy, and enterprise sectors.

While the company’s business alone has a large impact in the region, AFL strives to give back to the community in various ways. Winning the South Carolina Ambassador for Economic Development in 2015, the company is dedicated to their corporate social responsibility efforts.

“We have a robust community outreach program. For example, AFL provides grants and sponsorships to educational institutions with STEM programs. Providing aid for workforce development is very important for us,” Gallagher said.

AFL’s large presence in South Carolina has also influenced Japanese companies such as Kobelco, to locate in the area.

“We’ve talked to a few Japanese companies who wanted to know more about our experience working here. We also interact with a lot of Japanese companies who are already here,” said Satoru Ogawa, Vice Chairman of AFL and Japan-America Association of South Carolina.

“We want the Japanese community here to grow along with the region and we’re happy to contribute any way we can,” he said.

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