Northeast Indiana has long enjoyed a close relationship with Japan, collaborating often on plans for business expansions, workforce development and cultural exchanges. This year’s annual summit focused on the challenges and opportunities faced by Japan and Northeast Indiana throughout 2020 and the goals both sides have in mind for 2021.
Sarah Delgadillo, director of global citizenship for Wabash, served as the event host and gave a warm welcome to the many ambassadors in attendance on behalf of Japan and Northeast Indiana.
Consul General Kenichi Okada offered up opening remarks for the virtual summit, fondly recalling his recent visit to the city of Wabash back in September. He emphasized his excitement for the newly launched Japanese language program offered at Wabash High School and noted that this was a “great step” and that WHS should serve as the “model” for other high schools looking to provide a more globalized education.
Consul General Okada also highlighted the resiliency of Japanese businesses in Indiana, noting that most of these companies did not have to lay-off employees in the midst of the pandemic, and most that had experienced lay-offs had been able to bring their employees back to work quickly. As 2021 approaches, Consul General Okada is optimistic for what the future will look like for the relationship between Japan and Northeast Indiana.
“COVID is not holding us back,” Consul General Okada said. “Our partnership continues with great momentum moving forward….We can now strengthen our business partnership with Japan and Northeast Indiana. We are very much eager [about] doing much more business together.”
Paul Roland, Director of the State of Indiana’s Japan Office gave a history of the relationship between Indiana and Japan, a relationship that dates back over 100 years when the two began educational exchanges. Today, according to Roland, Japan is the largest foreign direct investor for Indiana, and is responsible for upwards of creating 70,000 jobs in the state.
The keynote speaker of the summit was Kiyoaki Aburaki, managing director of Japan for BowerGroup Asia (BGA). He expanded on the topics remarked on by Consul General Okada, namely the impact that COVID-19 has had on Japan and its relationship with Indiana. Nonetheless, Aburaki noted that Japan is increasingly excited about the prospect of investing more in the United States, especially in the Midwest and Indiana.
The appeal of the Midwest and Indiana, according to Aburaki, are the people and its ideal location in the middle of the United States. Looking forward, Aburaki remarked that he would like to see a new collaboration evolve between Japan and the United States to better adapt to the data-driven globalized economy that has become prevalent in many industries.
Following Aburaki’s presentation, the floor was opened up for questions from the audience, moderated by Theresa Kulczak, executive director of JASI. Questions ranged from the ambassador’s views on the United States’ recent political climate, COVID-19 and even the rise of self-automated vehicles.
Grow Wabash County, JASI and the Regional Partnership is grateful to all of the speakers and attendees that made this year’s unconventional summit a success.