LOCAL NEWS MAY 17, 2016 WEIRTON – Pat Ford is once again heading overseas to spread the word about West Virginia. Ford, executive director of the Business Development Corp. of the Northern Panhandle, has been selected to represent the Northern Panhandle as part of a state investment mission to Japan May 20 to May 28. This will be Ford’s second trip to Japan representing the Mountain State. “What I’ve really come to respect about the Japanese is their sensitivity and appreciation for the development of relationships,” Ford said. West Virginia has been connected to Japan for more than 25 years, beginning with discussions by then-Gov. Gaston Caperton and former U.S. Sen. Jay Rockefeller. Those efforts eventually led to the opening of Wheeling-Nisshin in Follansbee. Today, 21 Japanese firms have operations in West Virginia, employing more than 3,400 people, Ford said. In addition to Wheeling-Nisshin, Feroleto Steel, a subsidiary of Toyota Tsusho America Inc., operates in the Northern Panhandle, with a facility in Weirton. As part of this year’s trip, the delegation will visit Nagoya, Yokohama and Tokyo, as well as exhibiting at the Society of Automotive Engineers of Japan’s 2016 Automotive Engineering Exposition, which is Japan’s largest automotive trade show. The group also is scheduled to meet with various current and potential future investors. Ford said one of the main focuses will be discussions on West Virginia’s energy growth, in particular ongoing development of the Marcellus and Utica shale plays for the natural gas industry. “That’s something that has been of interest to the Japanese,” Ford noted, explaining in the past there has been interest in the areas of value-added steel and automotive industries. The visit follows a luncheon held in April by Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin, U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., the West Virginia Department of Commerce and the Discover the Real West Virginia Foundation, in which Japanese business leaders learned more about the work in the gas industry. Among presentations at the luncheon were representatives of Energy Corporation of America, Northeast Business Development and MarkWest Energy Partners.