Alabama leaders seek to strengthen bonds at SEUS Japan 40

The Honda plant in Talladega County has been a key player in the growing relationship between Japan and Alabama. [Photo courtesy of Honda]

The 40th Annual Joint Meeting of the Southeast U.S.-Japan & Japan-U.S. Southeast Associations, known as SEUS Japan 40, is being held in Greenville, South Carolina, this week.

Alabama Commerce Secretary Greg Canfield is leading the 28-member Alabama delegation and spoke at the opening session.

“It’s a great honor for the state of Alabama to participate in this historic gathering of SEUS Japan,” he said. “Through the years our partnerships, and friendships, have flourished thanks to the collaboration made possible by these organizations.”

Alabama’s economic ties with Japan run deep, he said.

“In 2016 alone, foreign direct investment in Alabama by Japanese firms topped $113 million, and the companies created more than 300 jobs,” Canfield said. “We look forward to seeing even more growth in the future as Japanese businesses thrive in our state and across the U.S.”

Delegates from Japan and six other Southeastern states are participating in SEUS Japan 40. Session topics include labor force trends and challenges in Japan and the Southeast, and bilateral relations between the U.S. and Japan in the areas of trade, investment, security and defense.

Hilda Lockhart, director of the Commerce Department’s Office of International Trade, said SEUS Japan 40 offers an opportunity to build on the already solid bonds between Alabama and Japan.

“Over the decades the conference has taken on various topics and issues for discussions, but at the end of the day, it is still about one key element – building on new and existing relationships between Japan and Alabama,” she said.

“This relationship is deeply rooted on economic and strategic bonds and participating each year helps make that bond stronger.”

Massive impact

Japanese investment has boosted communities across Alabama.

In Walker County, for instance, total Japanese investment now exceeds $150 million and has resulted in more than 500 new jobs.

“The impact from Japanese investment in Walker County and the city of Jasper has been a game changer for the local and regional economy,” said David Knight, executive director of the Walker County Development Authority and a member of Alabama’s SEUS Japan 40 delegation.

Yorozu Automotive is the third Japanese Tier 1 auto supplier and fourth overall supplier to call Walker County home, he said. Yorozu broke ground on a $115 million state-of-the-art metal stamping facility in January 2016. The company employs 140 people and will ramp up to more than 300 jobs at full production.

Nitto Denko, a producer of seals, gaskets and interior components, was the first Japanese company to locate in Jasper, followed by HTNA (Hayashi Telempu), which completed construction of a new 150,000-square-foot facility in 2014 to manufacture automotive carpet, trunk linings and interior parts.

“The completion of Interstate 22 in 2016, connecting Birmingham with Memphis, has placed Walker County in an ideal location for future automotive projects, with Jasper being located less than 90 miles from four auto assembly plants and less than 250 miles from 10 auto assembly plants,” Knight said.

“Projects like Yorozu, HTNA and Nitto Denko have helped us diversify our industrial base, grow the local economy and provide job opportunities that improve the quality of life for area residents.”

Building bonds

Looking forward, Japan and the U.S. face shared challenges and opportunities that range from workforce to trade and investment, Lockhart said.

“Our delegation is comprised of both public and private leaders who are participating to look deeper into how we can approach these together. It allows everyone to make new contacts and build on those that have been attending this event for many years,” she said.

The Alabama delegation includes representatives from Toyota Motor Manufacturing Alabama, Daikin America, Gray Construction, BL Harbert International, Alabama Power Co., Spire, Yates Construction and North American Lighting.

Other participating organizations are: AIDT, Birmingham Business Alliance, Birmingham Sister Cities, Japan America Society of Alabama, the City of Jasper, Walker County Development Authority, Morgan County Commission, Morgan County Economic Development Association, Prattville Area Chamber of Commerce, Alabama Department of Labor and the University of Alabama Center for Economic Development.

Mark Jackson, Honorary Consul of Japan to Alabama, also is a part of the delegation.

Today, Alabama is home to 67 Japanese manufacturing operations, including a heavy automotive presence in Toyota, Honda and their extensive network of suppliers and support businesses.

Japan’s non-automotive companies have a significant presence in Alabama, too.

Among them are dietary supplement manufacturer Pharmavite, a subsidiary of Japan’s Otsuka Pharmaceutical Co., as well as Nippon Steel, Dai-ichi Life Insurance Co., and Daikin and Toray, which make carbon fibers and fluorofibers.

This story originally appeared on the Alabama Department of Commerce’s Made in Alabama website.