MBJ: Chamber, City Council representatives visit Japan
With a trip to Tokyo in September, the City of Memphis and the Greater Memphis Chamber are working to strengthen West Tennessee’s connection to Japanese companies.
Memphis City Council Chair Kemp Conrad and Ernest Strickland, the Chamber’s vice president of international and business partnerships, visited Tokyo Sept. 20-22 for the 39th Annual Joint Meeting of the Southeast U.S. and Japan.
The Chamber has two main international goals: lure more Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) to Memphis and Shelby County and help local companies increase exports to foreign markets, Strickland said.
Conrad and Strickland are currently working to bring Masami Kinefuchi, the Japanese Consul-General in Nashville, to Memphis so he can see Japan’s investment in the area.
As Tennessee’s No. 1 foreign investor, Japan has 180-plus companies with operations in the state. Those companies employ 40,000-plus people directly and account for another 50,000 jobs indirectly.
In 2015, Memphis exported $738.6 million in goods from Japan, through companies such as Buckman Laboratories, FedEx Corp., Hilton Worldwide, International Paper, Lucite International, Medtronic and Smith & Nephew, just to name a few, Conrad said.
Memphis and the greater MSA also have a large presence of Japanese-owned distribution and manufacturing facilities, including Helena Chemical, the agricultural products division of Japanese business group Marubeni’s U.S. trading arm, in Collierville; Brother International Corp. USA, Japan-based Brother Industries Ltd.’s 1.5 million-square-foot facility serving North and South America, in Bartlett; and most recently, Mitsubishi Electric Power Products, an electric power transformer manufacturing facility that opened in South Memphis in 2013.
During the trip, members of the West Tennessee delegation met with Mitsubishi to thank them for their investment and pitch a possible expansion on President’s Island.
Japanese companies typically send someone from Japan to work and manage local operations, Strickland said, so it helps to have a community supportive of Japanese interests.
The Japanese Language School of Memphis, for example, offers a Saturday school for Japanese youth at the Sharp Manufacturing Co. of America, off of South Mendenhall Road.
“The Saturday school, where many of the Japanese leaders work, ensures the kids of expats working in Memphis have an opportunity to learn about their culture,” Strickland said.
Small efforts such as Asian markets, restaurants and stores, as well as the Japanese Gardens in Bartlett and at the Memphis Botanic Garden, help make expatriates feel more comfortable.