Reprinted with permission from the Vincennes Sun-Commercial newspaper
October 19, 2023
A delegation of local leaders are headed back to Japan this week, looking to connect with Japanese manufacturing leaders and doing their part to secure continued industry investment here in Indiana.
Chris Pfaff, president of Knox County Indiana Economic Development, will join Mayor Joe Yochum and county commission president Kellie Streeter, also a member of KCIED’s Executive Committee, in attending the U.S. Midwest Japan Association’s annual conference, coming together with several other state representatives, including Gov. Eric Holcomb.
This marks the first time a delegation from Knox County has made the trip to Japan since 2017. Before that, a local group went in 2008.
The conference, Pfaff explained, is held in Chicago, Illinois, and Tokyo in alternating years.
“State officials, the governor, will be there with us on this trade mission,” Pfaff explained. “There will be a business round table discussion with the governor, hosted by a trade association there.
“So we’re really all looking forward to that.”
But one of the primary objectives for local officials will be in connecting with executives from Futaba Indiana of America and Excell USA Inc., local companies who manufacture vehicle parts here.
“We’ll visit the headquarters for those two Japanese companies,” Pfaff said. “We’ll have sessions set up to visit with the presidents of each.
“Primarily, we’ll be looking to thank them for their investment in our community and explore anything we can do to further assist them.”
As KCIED develops its own Workforce Development Committee, a group of board members meeting regularly with local human resources representatives from area businesses in an effort to begin addressing a continued lack of workers, Pfaff said he understands that will likely be a topic of discussion.
“I expect workforce attraction will be at the top of the list of things to talk about,” he said. “And we’ll be happy to share with them the things we are trying to do as far as things like housing development and additional staff within our own office to work specifically on workforce and talent attraction.
“But, again, our primary goal will be to just convey to these companies that we want to do whatever we can to help them grow and be successful here.”
The local delegation will also be attending a Friends of Indiana reception that will see a number of Japanese companies that have a presence in Indiana represented.
“We look forward to talking with folks from Toyota especially as we think about supply chain issues as (the Gibson County plant) looks to produce (electric) vehicles,” Pfaff said. “That could be a future opportunity for us as well.”
Indiana is home to more than 300 Japanese companies that employ more than 55,000 people. They include Subaru Corp., Toyota Motor Corp., Honda Motor Co. and Hitachi Ltd., as well as a whole host of subsidiaries that provide parts to the automotive manufacturing industry.
It’s a relationship that started decades ago, and Pfaff said it’s up to local leaders now to make sure Indiana continues to be an attractive site for Japanese companies looking to grow and expand.
“I would suspect that what made Indiana attractive in the first place was its existing automative manufacturing facilities, the availability of labor at the time and it being a less expensive place to do business,” Pfaff said.
“There were state and local leaders back in those early days that developed those relationships and attracted foreign direct investment from Japan. And it’s up to leaders now to make sure those relationships continue to thrive.
“It’s culturally important for companies in Japan to have good relationships in the state’s they do business in.”
Streeter said she is thrilled to be making her first trip to Japan, representing Knox County and the State of Indiana.
“In the past, (county officials) haven’t had the opportunity to go, and I feel very strongly that with our management of the industrial parks and all the work we’ve done as a county to grow and improve them, our leadership needs to be represented,” she said.
Only recently the county oversaw a $4 million overhaul of Elkhorn Road near the U.S. 41 Industrial Park and drew the lines of a new Tax Increment Finance Zone around the industrial parks in an effort to spur additional development and investment.
“So I’m incredibly honored to go to Tokyo to meet with the leaders of Toyota and their subsidiaries, meet their government leaders,” Streeter said. “Here in Indiana we have more (Japanese) companies and their subsidiaries than any other state in the country, so I’m proud to be able to go and talk about us and express just how thankful we are for these partnerships.
“And hopefully we’ll see even more in the future.”
The group left Friday and will return in a week’s time.
KCIED is paying for the mayor, Streeter and Pfaff to make the trip.
Holcomb’s office called Japan “the state’s largest foreign investor.”
Holcomb and representatives with the Indiana Economic Development Corp., too, will meet in Tokyo with U.S. and Japanese government officials including U.S. Ambassador Rahm Emanuel and leaders of Tochigi Prefecture, which shares a 24-year sister state relationship with Indiana.
The Midwest U.S. Japan Association is comprised of the governments of 10 Midwest states and eight Japanese prefectures and about 100 companies.
It will be Holcomb’s 16th foreign trip as governor. The cost of the trip is being paid through private donations to the Indiana Economic Development Foundation.
— The Associated Press contributed to this report.