Local officials attend international trade conference
by Jason Lowrey
Nov 24, 2013 | 1574 views | 0 0 comments | 37 37 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Local officials once again attended the annual Southeast US-Japan conference that brings together American delegates and Japanese business leaders in order to foster economic ties and growth.

For 2013, Biloxi, Miss., served as the host Nov. 17-19. Last year, Bartow County’s delegates flew to Japan in order to attend the conference, as the location alternates between the two countries every year. Bartow County Commissioner Steve Taylor, County Administrator Peter Olson, Cartersville Mayor Matt Santini and Cartersville-Bartow County Economic Development Executive Director Melinda Lemmon attended the conference.

Lemmon said the event was a chance for U.S. delegates to highlight major economic gains in their regions.

“It’s always interesting to see all the governors or the representatives line up and compare notes about strengths and opportunities with our connections with Japan. So each of those representatives shared highlights of their state. It’s typical they each give numbers, capital investment, how many are employed, Japanese companies, the number of companies. They didn’t all do it this time, so I was disappointed I couldn’t quite get a scorecard going,” she said.

Secretary of State Brian Kemp represented Georgia at the conference this year, as Gov. Nathan Deal was unable to attend. Lemmon said he highlighted the 400 Japanese companies that have done business in Georgia in the years since 1975, when SEUS-Japan began.

Having Taylor and Santini as part of the Bartow County delegation helped the community stand out, Lemmon said.

“But the commissioner and the mayor, to be there, I think they might have been among just a handful of elected officials from the local level that were even in that room,” she said. “To the Japanese culture, the title mayor for example, is extraordinarily high, much like chairman. It is just one of the highest-ranking titles an official could have.

“So to have someone of that caliber in the room, or the commissioner — our highest-ranking elected official — means so much to the Japanese culture, and there’s a lot of value in that.”

Taylor attended the 2012 conference in Japan as the chairman of the Bartow-Cartersville Joint Development Authority. This year, as commissioner, he said he made sure to strengthen the county’s relationship with existing Japanese industries.

“It’s always good to touch base with existing industries here in Bartow County and make sure to let them know that we’re there in case they need us and that we support their companies being here — just let them know that we’re a pro-business community,” he said. “I think that’s probably the most important, to let them know that we’re all about them being in here and being in our community, and let them know that we’re a low-cost community.

“The cost of doing business here in Bartow County is lower than most communities, and I think they already know that. But we’re just there to let them know that we’re here if they need our help.”

Taylor said he was impressed with the focus Japanese culture puts on work and the country’s willingness to learn. He said the Bartow County College and Career Academy allows him to draw a similar comparison between Japan and the county.

“We relate that as we have our conversations with almost every group of the Japanese business folks that we talked to. We make sure that we relay information back to them about our community and the College and Career Academy, and the educational training programs that we have going on in our community. They’re very attentive to that,” he said.

Looking ahead to the 2014 conference, which will be held in Japan, Lemmon said she was not yet sure if Bartow County would send a delegate. If a delegation does attend, she said having the ability to personally thank Daiki and Toyo executives for their Bartow County investments would be “a really good opportunity.”

When asked if attending the SEUS-Japan conferences has produced a tangible result for Bartow County, Lemmon’s answer was one word.

“Toyo. Representatives of this community have been going to this conference since long before my time, and my understanding is that Toyo was met through one of these visits,” she said.