TWIN FALLS — A half-dozen Japanese small businesses are interested in developing partnerships in Idaho.
This week, company representatives are traveling around the state and taking tours of local businesses in hopes of finding new opportunities. They were accompanied by local and state leaders and economic development professionals.
“We want to share as much as we can with these companies because they actually represent a group of 100 companies of similar size,” said Jan Rogers, former CEO of Regional Economic Development for Eastern Idaho.
Takashi Suzuki, president of Sakae Casting Co., considers himself somewhat of a pioneer — having established an office in Idaho Falls just last year, he said through an interpreter. His company is working with the University of Idaho to develop a new method of storing and cooling nuclear waste.
But Suzuki is also a part of a larger group of colleagues in Japan — presidents of second- or third-generation family businesses. This week’s visit included a few of those presidents, young newcomers to Idaho who hoped to explore and find opportunities for partnerships.
“They fell in love with Idaho because of the people,” interpreter Miecka Fox relayed of Suzuki’s past experience in the state. “The government officials are very personable.”
Suzuki was particularly impressed with meeting Idaho Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter right away — something that wouldn’t necessarily happen in larger states such as California. Idaho was also attractive because of its land and infrastructure available for new businesses.
“Idaho is very accommodating for new businesses, of course,” he said. “The expense is low.”
In Japan, small businesses are often overlooked by the government, Suzuki said, and these companies know that “they can’t just survive domestically.”
While the purpose of these site tours is often to encourage job creation, Rogers said she regards all companies equally.
“It doesn’t matter if you’re 10 people or 1,000,” she said. “You’re treated the same. We treated them as if they’re Chobani.”
Sen. Kelly Anthon, R-Rupert, agreed.
“The bread and butter of the Idaho economy is small businesses,” he said.
Suzuki plans to bring another group of Japanese businessmen to Idaho in the future.
Rogers and others have been taking seven Japanese company representatives around the state — from Boise to Rexburg — over four days. In Twin Falls, they stopped at Clif Bar and the College of Southern Idaho Applied Technology and Innovation Center, where CSI Executive Vice President Todd Schwarz led a tour of the food processing and manufacturing labs.
Schwarz explained how the college works with companies to provide workforce training. With the low unemployment rate, CSI has struggled to keep enrollment numbers up, he said.
“We’re trying to reach out to those companies with training needs and pull from those companies,” Schwarz said.
The tour also included a visit to Commercial Creamery Co. in Jerome. City Administrator Mike Williams said it was nice having the representatives on-the-ground to see the success of other industries in Idaho.
Next, the group planned to go to Burley to see the NewCold frozen storage warehouse that’s under construction, as well as to tour Fabri-Kal.
The five other companies attending the tour with Suzuki had a general interest in food manufacturing and equipment.
The partners of Tec, an electronic circuit board manufacturer, have begun working on a project to produce a new type of Idaho potato-based distilled alcohol. The company will probably use existing Idaho distilleries to produce the alcohol under another label, to be sold in the U.S. and internationally, Anthon said.
Atom Seimitsu is a company that manufactures robotics for the computer semi-conductor industry. It’s expressed interest in using robotic technology for hydroponic projects and other commercial greenhouse facilities.
Also in attendance were equipment manufacturers Iwasawa Press and Miyama Giken, as well as Seiho — a bio-plastics company.
Suzuki had met Rogers and Idaho officials at the SelectUSA Investment Summit in 2016, Rogers said. Then, in April, an Idaho group including Rogers and Anthon went to Japan.
Rogers said it was about three weeks later that she learned about five companies wanting to tour Idaho. The speed of developing these business relationships, she said, has been incredible.