Ford heads to Japan on latest business mission

Ford heads to Japan on latest business mission

WEIRTON — Pat Ford is heading back to Japan.

The executive director of the Business Development Corp. of the Northern Panhandle will be leaving Thursday morning, as part of a West Virginia delegation, with a goal of further cementing the Mountain State’s relationship with the Japanese people, and encouraging further business development. This will be his third trip to the Asian nation for such a business mission.

In addition to Ford, West Virginia will be represented by officials from Charleston, as well as Jackson and Harrison counties, and officials from the state Department of Commerce.

The delegation is scheduled to spend half of its time in Tokyo, and then travel to Nagoya, where the West Virginia Development Office has a full-time operation.

“The first four days are going to be spent with existing businesses who already have operations here,”Ford said, noting the importance of continuing relations in Japanese culture.

Time is scheduled to meet with potential business contacts, in the hopes of luring them to West Virginia.

Three days will be dedicated toward attending an international automotive engineering conference, something Ford noted is important with approximately 20 automotive-related companies operating in West Virginia.

“We have a large number of automotive suppliers and manufacturers in West Virginia,” Ford said.

West Virginia’s relationship with Japan began in the mid-1980s, when Wheeling-Nisshin first opened its doors in Follansbee. It was the first Japanese company to locate a facility in the state.

“We have the first, and that was back in 1986,” Ford said, noting Wheeling-Nisshin has expanded its local operations three times in its 31-year history. “That relationship has been very critical for us.”

He said some of that relationship has included similarities in the work culture and geography, but also because of the continuing dialogue.

One of the biggest changes, Ford said, for this year’s trip, compared to previous ventures, is an availability of viable land for development opportunities.

Among the areas with available property, Ford said, are the former Newell Porcelain site; the Rock Springs Business Park in Chester; the former Follansbee Steel property; the Beech Bottom Industrial Park; and the Frontier Group-owned former mill property in Weirton.

“For the first time, we have a healthy inventory of properties,” Ford said. “A lot of these companies are seeing the value.”

Ford pointed to the recent announcements by Italian company Pietro Fiorentini and Canadian firm Bidell of plans to open operations in Weirton as further proof of success in the state’s international outreach.

Ford noted, in Hancock and Brooke counties alone, there are companies from Canada, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Switzerland, Russia and Luxembourg.

“They’re not one-offs. You have to stay in front of them,” Ford said, explaining other nations and even other groups from the United States are working to attract business projects. “We’re not the only ones making these trips.”