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Friday, July 19, 2024

Project plans: Japanese companies keep calling North Carolina home.

Japanese companies appear to have an affinity for North Carolina, an inclination nurtured by Tar Heel leaders seeking new investment and job creations.

That affection was on public display April 12 when Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida became the first foreign head of state to attend a State Lunch at the Governor’s Mansion.

About 60 people – evenly divided between Japanese and mostly North Carolina officials – dined on almost certainly Japanese-sourced wagyu beef tenderloin, along with poached North Carolina shrimp, followed by a pudding brûlée made with Carolina Gold rice, a different species from Asian rice. A bluegrass band played outside while the politicians and dignitaries ate on formal state dishes with a gold inlay.

A day before Kishida and his entourage made North Carolina a last stop on his weeklong visit to the U.S., the close business relationship between Japan and the Old North State unfolded in another part of Wake County. In Holly Springs, Fujifilm Diosynth Biotechnologies announced it was expanding upon its 2021 biopharmaceutical project there, adding $1.2 billion in investment and another 680 jobs, bringing the total stake to $3.2 billion and about 1,400 jobs.

Fujifilm did not leave empty-handed. State, county and city governments offered more than $88 million in incentives to close the deal. That money, which includes $19.7 million the state promised in 2021, is spread over 12 years and contingent on Fujifilm delivering on its pledge for jobs and investment.

“We’re not just putting out the welcome mat for you,” Wake County Commission Chair Shinica Thomas told company President Lars Petersen. “We are rolling out the red carpet.”

In the last decade, Japan has been North Carolina’s biggest foreign direct investment partner by far. It hasn’t even been close, with Japan accounting for 44% of the 607 total announced Greenfield Projects in North Carolina from July 2013 through June 2023, according to the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis. Germany (17%) and the United Kingdom (16%) are second and third on that list.

Gov. Roy Cooper often points out more than 30,000 North Carolina residents now work for companies based in Japan. That number should include an upward trajectory. In 2023, Japanese companies pledged $10.35 billion in investments to create almost 3,396 jobs in North Carolina. The biggie in that number being Toyota announcing two expansions worth $10.1 billion in investment at its battery manufacturing facility in Randolph County and adding 3,000 jobs. Toyota now values its investment there in manufacturing batteries for its hybrid and electric vehicles at $13.9 billion. The company expects the plant to be operational in 2025 and eventually employ 5,100 workers.   

Already in 2024, two other Japanese-based companies have announced $260 million in investments to create another 235 jobs, a total of 815 jobs counting those being created by Fujifilm in Holly Springs. Kyowa Kirin, a pharmaceutical company, will invest $200 million and create 102 jobs in Sanford, and Fujihatsu and Toyota will invest $60 million and create 133 jobs for an EV component factory to supply the battery plant.

“Japanese companies continue to provide good-paying jobs and economic opportunity for people across North Carolina,” says Cooper in announcing the Fujifilm expansion.

Cooper, in his eighth year as governor, touts his relationship with Japanese companies as an example of his skill as an economic development recruiter. He says he had an “amazing conversation” with Fujifilm Holdings President and CEO Teiichi Goto last October when he flew to Tokyo for a major economic-development conference. That same annual conference will take place this October in Charlotte.

“We do not take these opportunities for granted, that’s for sure, because companies like this can choose to locate anywhere in the world,” Cooper says in reference to Fujifilm. “And because we do live in a global economy, the goal of putting money into the pockets of North Carolina families requires foreign direct investment in our state.”

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