Join Executive Director Molly Whitehead on her Journey to Japan
Boone EDC Executive Director Molly Whitehead and Commissioner Jeff Wolfe are currently in Japan for Boone County’s inaugural Japan trip. This is an opportunity to thank Boone County’s Japanese businesses for their investment in our community, to visit with prospective businesses that may want to locate in Boone County, and to formally introduce our community to local governments. Thanks to additional private donations from our partners HWC Engineering and State Bank of Lizton, the trip was funded without the use of taxpayer dollars.
Day 1: Monday
Our first and only meeting today was postponed until Wednesday, meaning we got to spend the entire day sightseeing in Tokyo (not a bad way to spend the day!). We took 2 taxi rides and so many train rides I lost count, yet we still walked 7 miles.
It was a whirlwind, but we saw Imperial Palace and Akihabara, the “Electric Town” which is a shopping district for video games and computer goods. We stopped at a stationery store which was 12 stories tall. One floor was a “farm,” where leafy greens were being grown indoors for the store’s restaurant; apparently this is becoming a more common practice lately. A highlight of the tour was visiting the Edo-Tokyo Museum. Tokyo was actually named Edo until 1869. We learned about common firefighting practices, woodblock printing, and World War II. Both Jeff and I were glad this was on our stop as it’s given us a better understanding of Japanese culture.
Lunch today was family-style, eaten at a restaurant owned by and that feeds sumo wrestlers. It was a seafood mixture — shrimp, octopus, sardines, tofu, mushrooms, onions, and noodles. It was absolutely delicious and we both managed to only use chopsticks (full disclosure: silverware wasn’t available, so we didn’t have much choice).
I’ll leave you with a few initial thoughts about Japan: There is plenty of green space everywhere. I have only seen a few trash cans, but there is hardly any trash on the streets. And customer service is impeccable here. Taxi drivers wear suits and the seats are covered in doilies. And everyone in general is very polite and helpful.
Today, we hopped on one of Japan’s bullet trains and traveled to the Tochigi Prefecture, about 60-70 miles outside of Tokyo. Tochigi has a sister state relationship with Indiana. Fukai Manufacturing, which is essentially half of FTIC in Jamestown, is also located in Tochigi. These sister state relationships are a key component to the respective prefecture and state in developing friendships, cultural and educational exchanges, and economic efforts.
We started off our day by visiting Fukai Manufacturing, to formally thank Fukai Mfg. for its significant investment in Boone County. Fukai’s facility looks similar to FTIC in Jamestown, as does much of the machinery. It was a great visit and we were thrilled to see some of Boone County represented in the facility with the groundbreaking shovel and pictures.
Lunch was next: cold soba noodles, tempura, and wheat tea. It was delicious, and I’m pleased to report that we have almost mastered using chopsticks!
In the afternoon, we visited with Ashikaga City government officials (where Fukai Mfg is based) to learn more about their community and to further develop our friendship. Before leaving for Tokyo, we visited with Tochigi Prefecture representatives. Tochigi is a beautiful prefecture, full of mountains. Aside from the mountains, Tochigi reminded us a bit of Boone County, as it is very much an agricultural community. (Fun fact: Tochigi is the #1 producer in Japan of strawberries.)
We have a full day of meetings in Tokyo on Wednesday morning, so stay tuned for more.
We started out our Wednesday by meeting with JETRO representatives. JETRO, the Japan External Trade Organization, promotes trade and investment for Japanese companies. This was very much an introductory meeting so we did not have time to dive into the details, but JETRO offers quite a few services to Japanese companies, and ones that I think the Boone EDC already does or can emulate at home — promoting products, supporting unique products and services, promoting Japan’s brand, providing a one-stop shop to current businesses, and attracting new businesses to the area.
Next up, a meeting with Fuji Heavy Industries, Subaru’s parent company to thank them for their investment in our community (Subaru of America’s distribution center in Lebanon) and in our region (Subaru of Indiana in Lafayette). Two of the three individuals we met with actually worked at Subaru in Lafayette at one point in time, so they were already quite familiar with our area. We spent much of our time talking about local workforce initiatives and the logistical advantages we can provide in Boone County, should any of their suppliers want to locate closer to their facility.
We broke for a lunch of very fresh sushi and stopped by Honda’s headquarters to watch a demonstration of ASIMO, the robot Honda has been developing for the last 30 years. If you know me personally, you know I don’t get excited by much — but I did today, especially when ASIMO ran across the stage!
This afternoon, we met with a few of Japan’s leading trade industries to gain a better understanding of their operations and how we might partner together in the future.
By the way, if you’re wondering why there are so many pictures of Jeff handing out gifts… Gift giving is very much part of life in Japan. It is customary for organizations like ours to provide a small gift to the companies we visit with as a thank you for their time and often, their investment in Boone County. We took homegrown gifts with us — a metal Indiana sign with a star over Boone County and leather coasters with a Boone County imprint.
All in all, yet another good day. Off to Nagoya tomorrow!
Jeff and I hopped on another bullet train to Nagoya today, followed by an hour-long car ride to Toyota City, where we called upon Toyotetsu. Toyotetsu is the other half of FTIC in Jamestown. We familiarized the company even more with Boone County, but spent much of our time talking about FTIC’s specific workforce training needs. We will have plenty to work on once we return!
I have failed to mention thus far that we aren’t traveling by ourselves on this trip. Tony Suzuki is the Indiana Economic Development Corporation’s Japan representative. Suzuki-san is a Japanese citizen who has previously lived and worked in Indiana, and he helps build business relationships for the state. He has been a crucial part of getting us to-and-from and has been a great help to us in explaining Japanese history, culture, and business. And Tony has also taught us how to use chopsticks properly. (We’re pretty much pros by now.)
Today was our last full day in Japan and we ended it on a high note — with a visit to a prospective company. Since it’s a prospect, we can’t share the details of course, but I believe we provided the company with some good info on Boone County and hope they’ll see our community as an excellent fit for their business.
Overall, this has been a great inaugural overseas sales trip for us. The intent — which we have accomplished — was to thank our current businesses, meet with some prospective clients, and educate ourselves about Japanese culture. We’ve eaten some fantastic food over the past week and we’ve also mastered chopsticks (just in time to go home). We appreciate how humble, polite, and respectful the Japanese people are, and how much they care for their surroundings and rich culture.
Even though this has been a fantastic trip, I think we’re both excited to get back to our families and to Boone County. So with that, we’re signing off for this trip and we look forward to seeing you all soon!