Visit from Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida to put North Carolina in global spotlight

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Friday, April 12, 2024
Visit from Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida to put North Carolina in global spotlight
Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida will visit North Carolina today as part of a trip to the United States.

RALEIGH, N.C. (WTVD) -- Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida will visit North Carolina as part of a trip to the United States.

"It's unprecedented," explained David Robinson, an international trade attorney at Maynard Nexsen who serves as Honorary Consul for Japan in North and South Carolina.

Kishida will visit the Toyota electric battery manufacturing site in Randolph County and HondaJet facility in Guilford County before heading to an official luncheon at the Governor's Mansion in Raleigh.

"The fact that he's not only coming here but staying here for an extended visit to do a bunch of site tours and have lunch with the governor, I think is just indicative of how this relationship has matured now into it's so important for Japan that North Carolina gets why Japan should be here and invest here and why they should buy our products and vice versa," Robinson explained.

Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida visit includes a tour of the Toyota electric battery manufacturing site and HondaJet facility.

In October, Toyota announced an $8 billion investment towards its Randolph County site; it was the single largest direct foreign investment made in North Carolina history.

"Just in terms of foreign direct investment overall, it's had a huge impact on our state's economic growth over the last ten years. We've announced over 550 projects from FDI sources, almost 60,000 jobs and about $36 billion in capital investment. Japan accounts for half of that capital investment. They're a significant player in terms of the FDI that's coming into our state," explained Korey Howard, Business Development Director with the Economic Development Partnership of North Carolina.

"They are looking for a long-term investment and we know that from the fact that there have been so many Japanese companies here for decades. They share our philosophy that they want to put roots down in the communities. Many of these companies give back to our communities and they want to make sure they grow a strong, well-trained, skilled workforce that will put money in the pockets of North Carolina families," added Governor Cooper, part of a one-on-one interview with ABC 11 Tuesday previewing the trip.

Statewide, there are about 225 Japanese companies with 500 locations.

"Thirty thousand North Carolinians went to work for a Japanese company this morning. This evening, tens of thousands of Japanese ate a dish called Tonkotsu with North Carolina pork. So it goes both ways," explained Robinson.

"Japan has a lot of commonalities with the North Carolina strong sectors. (We're) talking about things like automotive, biotech, life sciences, food processing, so there's those similarities there and they really play well in terms of what we are strong here in North Carolina," added Howard.

The growing economic presence has also led to increased enrollment at the Japanese Language School of Raleigh.

"Last year, our number of students was about 200. And this year, we start at 250 and then we are expecting almost 300 students, which means about 150 families," noted Joe Sakai, a native of Japan who serves as Board Chairman of the school.

Sakai, a veteran of the automotive industry, added the state has drawn increasing interest from companies in the sector over the past decade.

"The weather is similar to Japan and living costs are very reasonable compared to other states. The crime rate is low and (this is a) very well-educated area here. So there are many good reasons people choose North Carolina," Sakai explained.

This trip comes months before a gathering later this year featuring Japanese business leaders.

"We are hosting the Southeastern United States Japan Conference, the SEUS/Japan conference in Charlotte in October. There are going to be Japanese companies and representatives from all over the world coming to North Carolina. We can show them all that our great state has to offer," said Cooper.

The luncheon at the Governor's Mansion will feature a menu prepared by James Beard-Award-winning chef Ashley Christensen, food from Sam Jones BBQ, and music from North Carolina bluegrass band Unspoken Tradition. First Lady of North Carolina Kristin Cooper will accompany First Lady Kishida Yuko on a tour of the North Carolina Museum of Science to see the Japanese Friendship Doll on display.

"I think the future is very bright for this relationship," said Cooper.