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All ready for another wave of Japanese investment

   Mar 17, 2023
Credit : GMI Post

For more than half a century, the Southern United States has attracted Japanese automakers and hundreds of other Japanese companies within the automotive supply chain, successfully drawing them in with a business-friendly environment and a consistent stream of reliable skilled workers.

And with the seemingly unstoppable growth of the electric vehicle market, the Southern states are gearing up for the entry of more Japanese investment in the fast-growing sector.

“Nissan has announced an additional $500 million investment to convert its Canton, Mississippi, plant from a gasoline car factory to an EV factory, while Bridgestone announced an additional $550 million investment in its Warren, Tennessee, plant,” said Japanese Consul-General in Nashville Yoichi Matsumoto.

Meanwhile, in Oklahoma, ranked No. 16 on Forbes’ Best States to Do Business list in 2021, the expansion is also being observed in other industries and sectors, among them renewable energy.

“By the consulate’s count, there are currently 27 Japanese companies in Oklahoma. The big ones are Hitachi Computer Products,  TDK and Weathernews Inc. Mitsubishi Heavy Industry also has Intercontinental Jet Services Corp., which maintains and refurbishes small airplanes in Tulsa,” said Japanese Consul-General of Japan in Houston Hirofumi Murabayashi, who oversees the Southern United States.

The city of Ardmore has adopted a practical view when formulating its development plans.

“There is a significant opportunity for companies who are looking to get into the green energy sector. We also believe that automotive parts represent another significant opportunity for our region, given again our proximity to production facilities in Texas and to newer investments in electric vehicles within the state of Oklahoma,” said Ardmore Development Authority President and CEO William Murphy.

While not traditionally a center of Japanese investment, Arkansas has stepped up its game to change that. The state’s efforts appear to be working. In 2020, Arkansas ranked No. 7 in Site Selection Magazine’s 2020 Governor’s Cup for new and expanded business operations.

“The city government, the businesses that are located here, the chamber of commerce and the school district are working together to make sure that we have highly qualified, motivated employees in the pipeline for whomever would like to locate here in Fort Smith,” City Administrator Carl Geffken pointed out.

Apart from the low cost of doing business, the Southern states also boast significant technical and intellectual credentials because of several world-class research institutions and national laboratories in the region.

“As Japanese companies look here, we line up our resources to meet their needs and introduce them to the right partners that can fulfill their business plans. One of the functions we do is a matchmaking or referral service for Japanese companies and American companies,” said David Rumbarger, president and CEO of Mississippi’s Tupelo/Lee County Community Development Foundation, a nonprofit that promotes economic growth in the state’s northeast region.

In Alabama, many cities and towns got a morale boost when Huntsville convinced Japanese car giants Mazda and Toyota to build their joint venture plant in the city. Likewise, the city of Opelika in central Alabama is confident it can attract Japanese companies because of various competitive advantages.

“Opelika presents a very viable opportunity because of our ease of transportation, excellent schools and highly skilled workforce. Opelika is prepared to welcome Japanese investments in the pharmaceutical, bio, aerospace and advanced manufacturing sectors. Alabama is an extremely business-friendly state and the city of Opelika is fully committed to making sure our companies grow and succeed,” said Opelika Economic Development Director Lori Huguley.

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