Lienhoop to lead first local delegation to Japan since pandemic

Columbus Mayor Jim Lienhoop is leading a delegation of local officials to Japan to reaffirm the city’s longstanding relationships with employers and its sister city Miyoshi.

The delegation, the first since the pandemic struck, will depart Indianapolis International Airport on Saturday and return March 18.

Lienhoop will be joined by 15 city, civic, nonprofit and business representatives, including Jason Hester, president of the Greater Columbus Economic Development Corp.; Cindy Frey, president of the Columbus Area Chamber of Commerce; as well as representatives from Toyota Material Handling, CAPCO, Bartholomew Consolidated School Corp., and Purdue Polytechnic Institute, among other organizations.

Lienhoop’s previous trip to Asia was in 2019 and included stops in Japan and Taiwan.

“We really do value the relationships that we have in Japan,” Lienhoop told The Republic. “We want to be able to — particularly coming out of the pandemic — let those folks know that we’ve not forgotten about them. We’re interested in keeping those relationships strong.”

The trip includes stops in, among other places, Tokyo, Hiroshima, Nagoya and Miyoshi, which has been Columbus’ sister city for nearly 30 years, according to an itinerary provided by local officials.

Local officials said they hope the trip will strengthen existing business and cultural ties between the city and Japan, a country that plays a significant role in the local economy.

A total of 24 Japanese companies operate in Columbus — including Toyota Material Handling, NTN Driveshaft and Enkei America Inc. — collectively employing about 6,000 people, Hester said.

Cummins Inc., the largest employer in Bartholomew County, also operates in Japan.

The delegation is expected to, among other things, visit Miyama Unitec, local employer CAPCO’s parent company, and the Toyoya Commemorative Museum of Industry and Technology, and meet with officials from Cummins Japan; Paul Roland, the Indiana Economic Development Corp.’s Japan director; and Dick Yamamoto, who officials said played a key role in the formation of the Columbus-Miyoshi sister city relationship in the 1990s.

“It’s a really important relationship that Columbus has developed over the years,” Hester said.

In addition, the delegation will meet the new mayor of Miyoshi, Tasuku Oyama, as well as other current and former Miyoshi city officials and civic leaders, including former Miyoshi Mayor Kenji Onoda and former City Council Chair Toshio Kondo.

BCSC Assistant Superintendent Chad Phillips and First Lady Pamela Lienhoop also are expected to deliver a box of letters written by Central Middle School students to seventh grade students at Minami Junior High School in Miyoshi, officials said.

Overall, the trip will cost about $136,500, according to figures provided by Hester.

That includes $28,000 from The Heritage Fund — The Community Foundation of Bartholomew County, $24,000 from Toyota Material Handling, $24,000 from the city of Columbus, $23,500 from the Greater Columbus Economic Development Corp. and $37,000 in individual participant contributions.

The city is funding the travel expenses for Mayor Lienhoop, Redevelopment Director Heather Pope and city engineer Andrew Beckort. The city is not paying for Pamela Lienhoop’s travel expenses, officials said.

As the departure date approaches, the upcoming delegation could be Mayor Lienhoop’s final trip to Japan as mayor.

Mayor Lienhoop, who will not seek another term as Columbus mayor, will leave office at the end of the year.

“I’m really looking forward to being able to say my farewells, particularly to former Mayor Onoda … and council president Kondo, but also to be able to once again to represent the city of Columbus in Japan,” Mayor Lienhoop said. “The relationships that we have over there are incredibly valuable to our city.”

Local officials view a presentation during a recent protocol session ahead of a visit of Columbus dignitaries, including Mayor Jim Lienhoop, to Japan.

Photo provided