Dewine To Join Business Leaders In Trade Trip To Japan

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COLUMBUS — Officials and business leaders from Ohio are headed to Tokyo this weekend for a trade conference, and they’ll be joined by a travel partner who they hope will help open new opportunities in Japan: Gov. Mike DeWine. 

“We will get to the very highest levels of large corporations,” said Paul Zito, vice president for international development with the Toledo-based Regional Growth Partnership. “Think of Honda, which just celebrated its 40th anniversary of operations in America, Toyota, Bridgestone. If the governor is attached, we get to the highest levels of management.”

Mr. DeWine’s first trade mission as governor will start with his departure Friday and last through Sept. 13. It coincides with the 51st Midwest U.S.-Japan Association annual conference, which alternates host locations between Japan and the U.S. Midwest.

This will mark the first time in nearly two decades that a sitting governor will participate. Republican Gov. John Kasich piggybacked on a JobsOhio trade mission to the country in May, 2017, but his trip did not coincide with this annual conference.

Mr. DeWine said Wednesday that he was urged by the business community and JobsOhio to personally participate.

“That made sense to me,” he said. “I’ve always found that if you want to get something done, you go yourself. …There’s absolutely no substitution for actually going somewhere and talking face to face with people.”

Japan is Ohio’s largest international investor and fifth-largest export market. More than 72,860 Ohioans are employed at 852 Japan-owned businesses. Ohio exported more than $1.67 billion in goods to Japan in 2018.

Mr. DeWine met and exchanged gifts with Shinsuke Sugiyama, Japanese ambassador to the United States, in the governor’s Statehouse office.

“I think [Japanese companies here] are now becoming part of a whole in this society,” Mr. Sugiyama said. “They seem to have become really American companies. If you take a look at these factories …, most of them have American CEOs.”

Gov. Ted Strickland’s lieutenant governor, Lee Fisher, led such a mission in 2007, and Gov. Bob Taft did so in 2000.

JobsOhio —the private, nonprofit economic development corporation created under Mr. Kasich — is organizing this month’s trip.

“There will be high-level meetings with Japanese government officials, trade agencies, and large corporations like Toyota, Honda, Kikkoman, and others,” said Mr. Zito, who previously managed the state’s European trade office. “There will be plenty of networking opportunities. Ohio’s reception is on Sept. 10.”

He said more than 40 Japanese-owned operations employ about 8,000 people in northwest Ohio.

“This is really a focus on foreign investment, for Japanese who want to set up or expand their operations,” he said.

Among those going are First Lady Fran DeWine; Lydia Mihalik, director of the Development Services Agency and former mayor of Findlay; J.P. Nauseef, JobsOhio president; and three other JobsOhio representatives.
More than 50 people representing government, economic development entities, and businesses are expected to be there, some of whom would have gone regardless of the governor’s presence. The expenses for those in the governor’s entourage and some government officials will be paid by JobsOhio, which is financed by profits from liquor sales.

Some other government employees will travel at taxpayer expense, the total cost of which will be released after the delegation returns. Regional economic development and business representatives will pay their own way.

The Tiffin-Seneca Economic Partnership plans to participate in hopes of making new contacts and building on existing Japanese subsidiaries like Taiho Corp. and American Fine Sinter.

“We are also looking to market and share information about our community ... as well as learn about trends in [foreign direct investment],” partnership President David Zak said in an email. “I think the Governor going sends a strong signal [that] Ohio wants to build and strengthen relationships and attract investment, while continuing a tradition going back to Governor Rhodes.”

RGP praised JobsOhio for including its regional economic development partners in its arrangements.

“We’re working to attract Japanese businesses to Ohio, regardless of region,” JobsOhio spokesman Matt Englehart said. “Working closely with our network partners is an important part of our strategy. If there’s an opportunity to invest in the Toledo region, that’s what we’ll pursue.”

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