Ford heads to Japan with state delegation

WEIRTON – Efforts to bring new economic development projects to West Virginia will be going international next week, and the Northern Panhandle will be represented during the trip. In late April, Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin announced he would lead a business mission to Japan, which will begin Tuesday, in order to celebrate West Virginia's connections with the nation and attract new business investments. Among those taking part in the trip is Pat Ford, executive director of the Business Development Corp. of the Northern Panhandle. Ford will be the only member of the delegation from the Northern Panhandle, and he says it will be a great chance to show what the region has available in terms of business opportunities. “This is a wonderful opportunity to showcase the area,” Ford said. The trip will include stops in Nagoya, where the West Virginia Department of Commerce opened an office 25 years ago, as well as Yokohama and Tokyo. The delegation will attend JSAE, which is Japan's largest automotive trade show, with Tomblin speaking before the Nagoya Chamber of Commerce and attending a reception with the West Virginia University Alumni Association's Japan Chapter. Nearly a dozen private meetings with current and potential investors also are on the agenda. “When people hear trade mission, they think vacation,” Ford said, explaining, however, that it was such a trade mission which attracted Italian company Pietro Fiorentini to the region with plans of a $10 million manufacturing facility in Weirton. Other trips were involved in convincing Toyota to build in southern West Virginia, and, 25 years ago, brought an international employer to Follansbee. “Wheeling-Nisshin was the first Japanese company to locate in West Virginia,” Ford said. He said he is honored to have been asked to be a part of the trip, saying he believes it shows the governor's faith in the future of the Northern Panhandle. Ford cited Tomblin's involvement in the demolition of the former Taylor, Smith and Taylor pottery in Chester; attracting Pietro Fiorentini; ongoing efforts with the former Wheeling Corrugating plant in Beech Bottom and the opening of the new ZAM product line at Wheeling-Nisshin, which Ford said was instrumental in keeping the manufacturer open. “I think it says a lot about the relationship Gov. Tomblin has with Brooke and Hancock counties,” Ford said. “We've never enjoyed that kind of relationship with a governor.” Ford said the BDC has been working to market approximately 1 million square feet of available building space in the area, and approximately 1,200 acres of land for new projects. In addition to Tomblin and Ford, members of the delegation include former Gov. Gaston Caperton III; Keith Burdette, cabinet secretary of the West Virginia Department of Commerce; Steve Spence, director of the International Division of the West Virginia Development Office; Hollie Hubbert, Asia Pacific project manager for West Virginia Development Office; Chelsea Ruby, director of marketing and communication for the West Virginia Department of Commerce; Kris Hopkins, director of business and industrial development for the West Virginia Development Office; Tom Heywood, managing partner of Bowles Rice; Lloyd Jackson, president of Jackson Resources Co.; Cam Huffman, president of the Wood County Development Authority; and Mark Whitley, director of the Jackson County Development Authority.

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