A thriving workforce, expanding economic diversity, and increasing economic growth have made Texas one of the leading destinations for foreign direct investment in the United States, with the bulk of it coming from Japan.
In the last decade alone, the Texas Economic Development Corporation (TxEDC) reported a total of 119 investment projects, $6.9 billion in capital investment, and 19,620 new jobs from Japanese companies in the state.
According to Consul General of Japan in Houston Hirofumi Murabayashi, the Texas-Japan relationship has reached an all-time high. From 2015 to 2020, the number of Japanese companies that have established offices in the state has climbed from 300 to 450, a level that was sustained even during the pandemic.
To further strengthen this economic partnership, the Office of the Texas Governor and the Tokyo Metropolitan Government signed in 2022 a Statement of Mutual Cooperation that affirmed their support for Tokyo-based small and midsize enterprises that want to expand to the Lone Star State.
Texas Japan Office Director Hiroyuki Watanabe said he was looking forward to the full implementation of the SMC now that business activity has returned to normalcy and international travel has resumed following delays brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic.
A total of 18 Texas community partners have signed up to the SMC, including Frisco EDC, Irving-Las Colinas Chamber of Commerce, Plano Economic Development, the Dallas Regional Chamber, and Greater:SATX Regional Economic Partnership.
The SMC is also welcome news to organizations that create business and cultural connections between Japan and Texas.
“We can help Japanese businesses better understand Texas and the characteristics of its cities and industries. Texas is full of opportunities for everyone, including Japanese companies,” said JETRO Houston Chief Executive Director Masahiro Sakurauchi.
Meanwhile, U.S.-Japan Council President Suzanne Basalla highlighted the power of personal connections in strengthening the partnership.
“The ties between the Japanese and American communities in Texas are growing at the foundational level because of genuine people-to-people connections. These relationships are powerful and precious, and can lead to great opportunities. They should not be taken for granted and must be continuously worked on,” she said.
Houston-based lawyer Kei Mari Ashizawa hopes to see a larger and more dynamic Japanese presence that goes beyond business.
“I would like to see more Japanese families and companies in Texas. In particular, I would like to see more Japanese women integrated into their local communities. A greater sense of community creates better business opportunities, which in turn attracts more Japanese investments into Texas,” she said.
For his part, Japan-America Society of Dallas-Fort Worth President Harry Whalen believes that Japanese businesses will find success in Texas because “the state is filled with genuine partners, such as economic development corporations, chambers of commerce, and other trusted organizations and collaborators that share their values no matter the sector.”
That same optimism and confidence is found in the city of Garland, a fast-growing area in the northeast corner of the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex.
“Japanese businesses have had and will continue to find success here in Texas. A lot of cities in Texas, like Garland, value diversity and collaboration above all else,” said City of Garland Economic Development Director Ayako Schuster.
Meanwhile, amid the continuous growth in the global commercial aerospace sector, Houston wants to maintain its leading position. In 2021, Houston Airports broke ground at Ellington Airport for what it billed as “the world’s first truly urban commercial spaceport” — Houston Spaceport.
“We’ll need the best corporations from the U.S. and Japan working together to develop innovative programs and technologies that will push the aviation and aerospace industry like never before and unlock untapped opportunities for everyone,” said HAS Director of Aviation Mario Diaz.
In the energy sector, Texas remains the country’s largest producer of oil and gas. Its proximity to the Gulf of Mexico has also given the Lone Star State abundant resources in natural gas, solar and wind power, which has unsurprisingly attracted Japanese energy companies.
“We are very proud to supply energy to the citizens globally, including the U.S. and Japan. We are committed to promoting natural gas as a form of ‘transitional energy,’ renewable energy and e-methane (a synthetic) as we actively push for innovative decarbonization strategies in line with our goal of becoming carbon neutral by 2050,” said Osaka Gas USA President and CEO Sunao Okamoto.
And in education and research, Texas continues to be the most popular choice for international students, including Japanese. As of 2022, its schools and universities attracted an average of 62,000 foreign students annually.
“Cultural exchange really matters. We want to make sure that our students and faculty can really grow and advance in their research and intercultural capabilities so they can create inclusive solutions to global challenges,” said University of Texas at Austin’s Vice Provost for Global Engagement and Chief International Officer Sonia Feigenbaum.
Cited often as the best example of a Japan-Texas partnership is the multinational convenience store chain 7-Eleven. Founded in Dallas in 1927, 7-Eleven sold a 70% stake to its Japanese franchisee in 1991. Today, 7-Eleven operates, franchises and licenses more than 78,000 stores in 19 countries in North America, Europe, Australia and Asia.
“Change equals opportunities. 7-Eleven in the U.S. did a great job at expanding the company nationally. But, it was our partners in Japan that introduced new practices that took the business to the next level. So, if I were to characterize the success of 7-Eleven in one word, it would be ‘change,’ which our partners in Japan have mastered,” said Jim Keyes, a Dallas-based executive who was CEO of 7-Eleven and now spearheads a variety of tech initiatives.