Thoughts from Japan: Day five

Editor’s Note: We received this correspondence from Commissioner Mike Kerschner after Tuesday’s final session of the Midwest U.S.-Japan 51st Anniversary Conference entitled, “Growing Together in a Global Economy.”

The topic of the discussion today was “Expanding Trade and Investment.”

There were two major discussion points — the barriers to trade and investment between the two countries and commonality of the Midwest U.S. and Japan.

Most speakers were anxious about the tariff concerns between the U.S. and China and how they could affect both the global economy and prosperity. The Japanese speakers felt that a new international order should be considered to establish a framework to resolve trade concerns through a neutral mediation system. Their job would be to preserve and promote free trade across all international spectrums

The second area of concern is the skilled trades gap. Both Japanese and U.S. representatives discussed the need to come together and try to find a solution to generate more skilled laborers in areas such as manufacturing, tool and dye makers, construction trades including electrical and plumbing, engineers and computer technicians. These were just a few of the areas mentioned, but there are many more jobs available if employers were able to find workers with the necessary skills.

On the positive side, Peter Jennings, president of Dow Japan and Korea and associate general counsel, said that the reason the Midwest U.S. and Japan have had such a great relationship over the past 50 years is their commonality. People in both places are humble, they have a strong work ethic, they are welcoming, they are honest and they have a love of family, country and the companies for which they work. He said the relationship between Japan and the U.S. has never been stronger and the one country that is worried about the strong relationship/ alliance is a country that begins with a C and ends with an A … and it’s not Canada.

Three Japanese company executives, Takeo Inokuchi with Mitsubishi Sumitomo Insurance Co.; Shigeru Yamazoe, Marubeni Corp.; and Nobuhiko Sasaki, Japan External Trade Organization; along with U.S. presenters including Jennings and Ron Jones, senior principal at The Lamar Johnson Collaborative (a Clayco company), headed the panel for these discussions. There were certainly some concerns voiced about ongoing, positive trade alliances with Japan, but the overall tone was very positive with both sides looking towards excellent opportunities into the future.

One other positive takeaway from the conference was a great speech by Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine. He gave a presentation as it relates to Ohio and Japanese partnerships. He advised the conference that 73,000 people in Ohio are employed by Japanese companies. Honda alone employs 15,000! Ohio exported $1.6 billion in goods to Japan in 2018. He advised the conference that Ohio has 200 higher education facilities — two of which are in Tiffin.

I also enjoyed the speech from Tommy Thompson, U.S. chairman for the Midwest US-Japan association. Thompson was a four-term governor of Wisconsin and is the former Health and Human Services secretary. He gave some history about the conference, including the fact it has been in existence for 50 years. Every other year it is held in a U.S. Midwest city.

Ohio had the largest contingent of people at this year’s conference.

Overall the trip has been an excellent opportunity to network with Japanese business leaders and with American officials. The conference itself was a successful event, but the work is not done yet. We are now in Nagoya to meet with American Fine Sinter and Taiho executives. This is a chance to continue to grow our relationship with the leaders of two companies that are important to our community.