Ford reflects on his trip to Japan
WEIRTON — Pat Ford is reflecting on West Virginia’s continuing relationship with Japan following his most recent business mission trip to the Asian nation whose companies have created thousands of jobs in the Mountain State.
There are more than 130 businesses currently operating in West Virginia from 27 countries, Ford, the executive director of the Business Development Corp. of the Northern Panhandle, explained, with West Virginia businesses exporting goods and services to more than 95 countries. Twenty-one of those international companies are based in Japan, accounting for $2.4 billion of private investment and 3,523 jobs.
“That’s the context of why we do business internationally,” Ford said.
West Virginia has had a relationship with Japan for more than 25 years, starting with the opening of Wheeling-Nisshin in Follansbee and the creation of a branch of the West Virginia Development Office in Nagoya, which Ford noted is Japan’s manufacturing and shipping hub.
“We were the first to do that,” he said. “More than 25 years later, it’s proved successful for us.”
During the most recent trip — from June 22 to July 1 — representatives of West Virginia had 36 scheduled business meetings and two receptions with existing business partners and government officials, and visited 87 new business prospects.
They also attended the 70th annual Japan Society of Automotive Engineers Exhibition.
The businesses were primarily involved in the manufacturing of auto parts and components, including transmissions, nerve systems, brake parts, gears, bearings, pumps, moldings and more. Ford noted the focus on car parts and manufacturing is because of West Virginia’s proximity to vehicle manufacturing plants in the eastern United States.
“That’s the niche we’ve been able to carve out in West Virginia,” Ford said, explaining 19 auto-related companies already operate in the Mountain State.
Ford credits West Virginia Secretary of Commerce Woody Thrasher with much of the work done during the trip, saying Thrasher had specific focuses for his presentations to highlight the benefits of locating in West Virginia.
He explained the importance of the continued mission trips with the Japanese word “nemawashi,”which he said stresses the need to do groundwork and develop relationships in business. Following his third such mission trip to Japan, Ford said he has definitely noticed a change and improvement as the West Virginia delegation and Japanese officials become more familiar with each other, explore each other’s culture and learn more about each other’s needs.
“You can feel the relationship getting stronger,” Ford said.