(Editor’s note: Due to an editing error, the original version of this post included an incorrect photo of Jiro Hashimoto.)
Gov. Steve Beshear has been a globetrotter during his tenure as Kentucky’s top executive.
Last year alone, Beshear went on trade missions to India, Japan, Germany and France and later this year he’ll lead a delegation to Canada.
In addition to racking up frequent flyer miles on his trips out of Kentucky, he’s made a concerted effort to rake foreign direct investment, or FDI, into Kentucky.
While media reports are filled with stories of off-shoring, FDI is the reverse of this phenomenon, with foreign companies investing in property, plant and equipment here in the Commonwealth and staffing those facilities with Kentuckians.
No where has Kentucky been more successful than Japan.
And much of this investment is drummed up by a man most people don’t even know exists.
Kentucky’s man in Japan is Jiro Hashimoto, a native Tokyoite and the one-man Far East Representative Office for the Kentucky Cabinet for Economic Development. The Japan office is one of two such offices with the other being in Hamburg, Germany, with Germany as Kentucky’s second-largest source of FDI.
Hashimoto is a busy man and tough to track down, but he agreed to an email interview.
He’s been on the job for 28 years after mid-career change from a large Japanese trading company. The then-chairman of KFC Japan interviewed him on behalf of Gov. John Y. Brown, Jr. and his career chasing investment for Kentucky was off and running.
Hashimoto describes his job thusly:
Business recruiting. I maintain relationships with Japanese companies that already do business in Kentucky and seek to cultivate growth opportunities. I also pursue new leads for the state by companies that don’t already have a presence there.
The relationship between Japan and Kentucky should continue for a number of reasons, according to Hashimoto.
On a national scale, the U.S. is politically stable and the largest developed market in the world.
On a local scale, he references Kentucky’s central location with excellent highway connections, right-to-work laws, industrial sites, cheap energy costs and aggressive business incentives.
Location is especially critical for the automotive parts industry for the ability to distribute to automobile factories in Kentucky, Alabama, Mississippi, Ohio and Tennessee and Interstate-65 and I-75 have become known as the “auto alleys” of the eastern U.S.
However, he does see some risk for Kentucky’s future viability as a Japanese FDI hub.
First and foremost, he says, “Budget limitations, which impacts our ability to extensively market Kentucky’s business advantages to the global marketplace.”
He also views Indiana, Ohio and Tennessee as direct domestic competition for the state.
But the Beshear Administration is pushing harder than ever for foreign investment.
Beshear clearly understands the domino effect of one large FDI project such as the Georgetown plant and is spending a great deal of his time and energy hunting for another such economic catalyst.
His Cabinet of Economic Development officals also understand the enormous value of Japanese investment in the state economy and employs Hashimoto to make sure the FDI spigot that has created more than37,000 local jobs does not run dry.
According to a report released earlier this month by the Kentucky Cabinet for Economic Development, there are 156 Japanese-owned facilities in the Commonwealth providing 37,371 full-time jobs.
The total dollar value of investment by these firms is over $11 billion, according to the most recent data compiled in 2007.
More is on the way with Toyota’s Georgetown plant slated for a $531 million expansion and refurbishment that will create an additional 750 jobs.
Japanese FDI accounts for approximately 40 percent of all foreign direct investment into Kentucky and the state is the third highest recipient of Japanese FDI in the U.S. behind only California and Ohio; on a per capita basis the state is second behind only Hawaii.
How did this relationship between Kentucky and Japan come to be?
The roots go back to the Julian Carroll administration of the late ‘70s, through the John Y. Brown, Jr. administration of the early ‘80s.
The Kentucky-Japan relationship was cemented during the Martha Layne Collins administration in the mid-‘80s with the 1986 construction of Toyota’s first North American factory in Georgetown.
Soon thereafter a slew of Japanese-based automotive parts suppliers followed Toyota into Kentucky and established facilities, making the Georgetown plant one of Kentucky’s largest and most successful economic development projects ever.
The lieutenant governor during the Martha Layne Collins administration? None other than Steve Beshear.
While Hashimoto is a one-man gang in Japan, for a country that values relationships above all else, annual gubernatorial trips to Japan have been invaluable in strengthening existing relationships and helping him carry out his job effectively.
Hashimoto’s work also brings him to Kentucky often and he knows the state well. Knowing this, we couldn’t let him off the hook without a sushi recommendation for our Louisville readers.
His recommendation? Hiko-A-Mon in Westport Village.