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Government, Columbus leaders heading to Japan, China today

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Gov. Mike Pence’s first overseas economic development mission will begin today with a nine-day trip to Japan, and a small group of Columbus-area business leaders will take part in that trip plus a separate weeklong journey to China.

Jason Hester, executive director of the Columbus Economic Development Board, said he and Mike Kern, a vice president with Gaylor Inc. electrical contractors, will join Pence’s contingent from today through Sept. 14. The state-led mission will include stops in Tokyo, Nagoya and the state of Tochigi.

Pence, Hester and others plan to attend the Japan-U.S. Midwest Conference, which runs Saturday night through Tuesday at the Imperial Hotel in Tokyo, where Japanese business leaders and government officials will host representatives from nine Midwestern states, including Indiana.

Following that venture, Hester and three other Columbus-area colleagues — who will fly to Asia separately in a few days — plan to meet in Shanghai to start a seven-day China trip. The small group will prospect for new investment by Chinese companies and work to strengthen cultural ties, Hester said.

The China leg will include stops in Shanghai, Wuxi (a city where Ivy Tech Community College and the Wuxi Professional College are sister colleges) and the Wuhan Economic and Technological Development Zone, a business trade area that covers 74 square miles near the city of Wuhan, where Cummins has manufacturing interests and connections.

Hester will be joined in China by Ryan Hou, co-founder of LHP Software; his wife, Jean Hou, who recently retired from Cummins as director of corporate information technology international business integration; and Sue Smith, corporate executive for advanced manufacturing with Ivy Tech.

Hester said the Japanese portion of the trip will mainly involve calling on companies that already have operations in or near Columbus, while the China leg of the trip will focus on long-term prospecting for new investment and jobs.

Columbus already is home to nearly two dozen Japanese companies, and Hester said the goal is to pay courtesy calls on several of those


Laying groundwork

In China, though, the goal is to lay the groundwork for future investment by Chinese business interests in the Columbus area, Hester said.

“We’ll focus on companies in China that may be looking for U.S. operations and investments,” he said.

China is expected to become the third-largest source of direct overseas investment in the world by 2015, and Columbus would like to be in line for some of those projects, he said.

Chinese automotive and heavy equipment manufacturers will be among entities on the “to-do” list in China,

Hester said without pinpointing any particular targets by name.

The Wuhan trade zone — where Hester and company will visit — largely focuses on automotive and high-tech industries such as making machinery, electronics and pharmaceuticals.

Hester and Ryan Hou said Columbus business leaders have basically used Cummins, the worldwide engine and power generation company, as their calling card on companies in China.

“Cummins has been there really since China opened up to foreign investment,” Hester said Wednesday, a day before beginning the 16-day Asian trip.

Hou pointed out that Cummins has several manufacturing plants and power generation customers in the Wuhan region in particular.

Long-range goals

Hou said the Chinese mission is a long-range one that may not immediately bear fruit.

“You don’t want to sit there and do nothing as a community. You have to move forward and create new opportunities for your people,” Hou said, explaining his interest in taking part in the trip. “What’s the value if you don’t go? Zero.”

Smith of Ivy Tech said part of her goal on the China trip is to enhance the existing sister-college relationship with Wuxi Professional College.

“Our faculty is working with their faculty to see which of our courses are similar, and we may look at some dual credits in the future,” Smith said. “We’ll also discuss our next student and faculty exchanges, and we may look at doing some online training for their faculty,” Smith said.

Cummins also has a manufacturing facility in Wuxi, and Ivy Tech may be able to guide the professional college there in building a closer relationship with the engine maker, she said.

One way colleges can work with industry — both in Indiana and Asia — is to provide workforce training ideas or programs.

“When companies look to expand, they ask about the workforce. That’s where the college comes in. We need to be able to say, ‘Here is how we will address your needs, help assess employees and train workers on the skills they need,” Smith said.

Government ties

Meanwhile, Pence’s office said the Japanese trip aims to maintain close ties with an island nation that is already Indiana’s largest Asian trading partner. The cost of the trip is being covered by private donations to the Indiana Economic Development Foundation, the governor’s office said.

“Our administration aims to continue to nurture and grow the strong bond between Indiana and Japan that dates back nearly 100 years and has led to more than 42,000 Hoosier jobs in recent years,” Pence, a Columbus native, said in a prepared statement. “I look forward to renewing our commitment to Japan, opening doors for new investment and jobs in Indiana and telling the story of Indiana as a state that works in America.”

Since 2005, Indiana has secured projects with 82 Japan-based companies, projecting to create nearly 10,500 new jobs and invest more than $4.1 billion in their Indiana operations, Pence’s office said.

Earlier this year, Subaru said it would invest more than $400 million to expand its Lafayette operations and add production of the Subaru Impreza, creating up to 900 new jobs. And Sunright America in Columbus said it would invest nearly $35 million at its plant and add up to 103 jobs by 2016.

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