TWIN FALLS, Idaho — Presidents and CEOs of six Japanese companies involved in technology and manufacturing are touring Idaho this week in hopes of finding partnerships for food production and processing.
The partnerships they seek are with local communities, businesses and universities, and the tour is giving them the opportunity to visit with many of those entities one on one.
Capital Press caught up with the tour at the College of Southern Idaho Applied Technology and Innovation Center where the businessmen were touring food processing and machinery and manufacturing laboratories.
Yasutaka Ichinose, president of Atom Seimitsu, a Tokyo-based company that manufactures robotic equipment for the semi-conductor industry, said through an interpreter he would like to create automated machines for agricultural systems.
His particular interest is in developing robotics for self-functioning commercial greenhouses. His company’s robotics are already being used in some of the businesses the group toured, such as a potato packing plant and Clif Bar.
It’s a natural fit to take the company’s robotics business into the agricultural realm, Kelly Anthon, state senator and Rupert city administrator, said.
The strength of Idaho’s agricultural industries makes the state a good location, and the Japanese companies know the state’s research universities and businesses will partner with them, he said.
For most of the businessmen, this is an exploratory tour, he said.
But this is Yasutaka’s fourth trip to Idaho — and it has solidified in his mind that as a small Japanese firm, he can do business in Idaho, he said.
He’s found good people here who are good to work with, he said.
Small businesses in Japan have limited domestic growth potential, Anthon said.
“The repeating theme is if you want to grow your business … the opportunity is in other places,” he said.
Small to mid-size companies in Japan are looking at the United States. The same holds true for European companies, Jan Rogers, CEO of Regional Economic Development for Eastern Idaho, said.
With its business-friendly atmosphere and government accessibility from the governor down, Idaho is “really a good front door” to the U.S. for businesses looking to expand, she said.
“We’re set up to help small business development,” she said.
This tour is just the tip of the iceberg, and she expects more Japanese companies to visit in the near future, she said.
“These companies represent a group of about 100 businesses … they are encouraging other companies to consider Idaho” if they are looking to expand to the U.S., she said.
Idaho is still a rural state and offers opportunity for foreign investments that are important to state, regional and local economies, as well as for foreign companies, she said.
“Foreign direct investment has been a key player in building our economy,” Anthon said, noting investments by McCain Foods and Glanbia Foods.
It creates opportunities for local families, the opportunity for better paying jobs here in Idaho, he said.
It’s not about growing for growth’s sake. It’s about supporting rural communities. Foreign direct investment is absolutely complimentary to that, he said.