Thoughts from Japan: Day six

I am writing this at 8:42 p.m. in my hotel room in downtown Nagoya, and now that our Japan trip is winding down, I have a few moments to collect and share my thoughts. What a whirlwind and action-packed schedule it has been! In the span of nine days, we will have travelled more than 12,400 miles and visited five cities; participated at a three-day, high-level conference, an investment seminar and then a Ohio reception with more than 500 people; and visited Taiho and Fine Sinter, the parent companies of Tiffin’s two Japanese companies.

On this trip, we have had direct access to Ohio and Japanese government officials and business leaders, and we have made the most of our opportunity. We have come to know each other better on a personal and professional level. We have listened to their concerns and have developed lists of ideas to explore, initiatives to work on, and issues to address together in the weeks and months to follow – particularly in the areas of workforce and cultural exchange. We have represented our community, our region, and the state well, and we will be positively remembered.

At times, Tiffin Mayor Aaron Montz, Seneca County Commissioner Mike Kerschner, State Rep. Bill Reineke and I were frustrated with the challenges of not having been here in Japan before, with not knowing how to speak or read the language, with taxis that dropped us off at wrong locations, with navigating the bullet train system, with strange and different cuisine and culture, with jetlag and not getting enough sleep. But every day, we enjoyed the experienced and laughed together. We felt energized and excited. And every day, we felt like our investment of time and resources was worth it and will produce real results over time.

Today, we visited the headquarters of American Fine Sinter in Kasugai, and we appreciated the chance to interact with President Yoichi Inoue and key members of his executive team for the first time face-to-face. The company began making parts in Tiffin in 2003, and since then it has grown to employ more than 300, ranking it among Tiffin’s top five private employers. Our discussions centered around the company’s top need to attract and retain talent in order to continue to grow and be successful.

Our day-long visit to Taiho’s headquarters in Toyota City yesterday, their plant in Gifu, tour of the Toyota museum, and formal Japanese dinner — including a sake (rice wine) with the same name as me (Zaku) — was a highlight of the trip. It was great to see Tom (Toshiharu) Yoshii again and reunite with Nick (Nobuhiro) Isogai, who ran Taiho in Tiffin before my friend Ace Yokoi took over two years ago. We also met several others of the Taiho team for the first time. Discussions were robust, and we were grateful for their hospitality.

Taiho is truly impressive. It is a billion-dollar company, employing 4,500 worldwide and 250 at their Tiffin facility. Our community’s relationship with them began with the building of their first plant in Tiffin in 1996 (they have since grown to two), and our facility has become Taiho’s number one plant in the world for producing advanced polymer-coated bearings for car engines and its second largest producer of bushings. The Tiffin plant produces an astonishing 54 million parts annually. Again, workforce was a top concern.

Both visits underscored a common theme we heard from speakers and experienced first-hand in our networking at the 51st annual Midwest U.S.-Japan Association (MUJA) Conference, the Japanese External Trade Organization (JETRO) seminar, and the State of Ohio reception – the power and importance of relationships. It was a value that Governor DeWine, JobsOhio leader J.P. Nauseef, as well as several other Japanese and American business and government leaders hammered home in their speeches and conversations.

As I get ready to put my head on the pillow here in Japan’s third largest city, I am excited to return home to the community I love, while also mourning for the loss of Mark Hayes. I look forward to working on the follow-up from this trip, and I look forward to continuing to build stronger relationships with all of our companies and partners, including Taiho and American Fine Sinter. I go to sleep thankful for everyone that has been a part of this; for the family, friends, and community I love; and for the opportunity to do this job every day. Oyasumi (good night) and see you soon!