Commerce Secretary Greg Canfield will join Alabama business leaders in a delegation representing the state in Japan next week at a high-level forum that aims to strengthen cultural and economic ties.
More than 30 Alabama government officials, economic development professionals and others who work in finance, manufacturing, medical technology and tourism will attend the 39th annual joint meeting of the Japan-U.S. Southeast Association & Southeast U.S./Japan, which is being held at the Imperial Hotel in Tokyo, Sept. 20-22.
The conference, known as SEUS Japan, brings together people from seven Southeastern U.S. states and Japan. Birmingham hosted last year’s gathering, and Alabama’s co-hosting duties are carrying over to this year’s forum.
Regions Financial Corp. executive John M. Turner Jr. is serving as co-chair at this year’s event.
Turner, now head of the Birmingham-based bank’s Corporate Banking Group, is a veteran of the industry in the Southeastern U.S. He previously headed Regions’ South Region and served as president of Whitney National Bank and Whitney Holding Corp. He is a former chairman of the Mobile Area Chamber of Commerce.
“This conference provides an opportunity to further expand the economic, trade, investment, cultural and educational ties between the southeast United States and the great nation of Japan,” Turner said. “I look forward to the networking events provided throughout this conference and to the opportunity to engage in conversations that will continue to move us forward.”
Canfield, secretary of the Alabama Department of Commerce and head of the Alabama delegation to SEUS Japan, said the event also underscores the close relationship that already exists between the state and the Asian nation.
“Japan’s roots run deep in Alabama,” he said. “Last year alone, Japanese companies announced more than $300 million in foreign direct investment in the state, along with 700 new jobs.”
“We want to continue to build on the strong relationships we have with our colleagues in Japan, and explore ways to grow even more together,” Canfield continued.
Hundreds of Japanese companies are operating across the Southeastern U.S., including steel makers, chemical producers, pharmaceutical firms and logistics organizations.
But the country’s influence in the region is most prominent in the auto industry, and that’s true for Alabama as well. Honda and Toyota have major assembly operations in the state, and those have spawned a vast network of suppliers and support businesses.
Since 1999, when Honda announced plans for its auto assembly plant in Talladega County, Japanese companies have invested more than $5 billion in the state, according to figures from the Alabama Department of Commerce.
Jim Bolte, president of Toyota’s engine factory in Huntsville, anticipates a productive conference in Tokyo. Bolte is a member of the Alabama delegation, and he also will participate as a panelist during a session on energy, environment and innovation.
“I look forward to representing Toyota and the state of Alabama at this year’s Southeast U.S. Japan conference. The event provides a great opportunity to strengthen existing partnerships and develop new relationships that positively impact our local and state economy,” he said.
Toyota is celebrating its 15th anniversary in Huntsville this year. The $864 million plant has expanded four times since its groundbreaking in 2001, and now produces six times as many engines as it did at its 2003 startup. The plant has about 1,350 employees.
SEUS JAPAN 39
Along with Alabama, SEUS Japan includes Tennessee, Georgia, Mississippi, Florida, North Carolina and South Carolina.
Delegation members will attend sessions where they will discuss policies to accelerate environmental innovation, business sector responses to combat climate change and the current investment and trade environment between Japan and the Southeastern U.S.
There also will be networking opportunities between the visitors from the U.S. and Japanese government and business leaders.
At last year’s forum in Birmingham, key speakers were Dr. Condoleezza Rice, former U.S. Secretary of State and city native; His Excellency Kenichiro Sasae, Japan’s ambassador to the U.S.; and Martin Luther King III, human rights activist and eldest son of Civil Rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.