Business executives and economic developers from throughout the state of Florida met with their Japanese counterparts in the Patel Center for Global Solutions on Friday morning to exchange business cards and learn about Japanese culture and foreign relations as part of the 10th annual Florida-Japan Summit.
Japan is the U.S.’s fourth-largest trading partner, and it traded approximately $267 billion in goods and services to the U.S. in 2011, according to the Office of the United States Trade Representative.
Manny Mencia, senior vice president of International Trade and Business Development for Enterprise Florida Inc., said Japan is the eighth-largest trade partner with Florida.
“Japan is also No. 4 in terms of employment in Florida,” Mencia said. “Japanese firms in Florida employ more than 20,000 Floridians. So it’s a very significant relationship we have with them.”
USF Vice President for Global Affairs and International Research Karen Holbrook gave the opening remarks at the summit, which was hosted by the Florida Delegation of the Southeast United States/Japan Association (FLSEUS/Japan), along with USF World and the Tampa Bay Trade and Protocol Council. Holbrook said having a relationship with
foreign countries such as Japan is important for students at the university.
“Given our engagement with Japan, we have been part of a network of institutions that believe that global engagement does not stop at the university doors, but that as part of a great university in the 21st century, this is how we define ourselves,” Holbrook said.
Over the last ten years, the summit has made its way around Florida, being hosted at universities and venues in Tallahassee, Jacksonville, Pensacola and Orlando.
The keynote speaker was Eiichi Kawahara, the consul general of Japan in Miami. He said many companies with headquarters in Florida have found success overseas in Japan.
“You will notice that many of the companies that are listed as some successful U.S. companies have headquarters in Florida,” Kawahara said. “On that list is Tropicana, Hooters and Universal Studios.”
The summit consisted of two panels: one related to business and another on education and culture. For the business panel, talks centered around “Abenomics,” the fiscal and monetary policies advocated by Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, to encourage private investment in the country.
Dave Woodward, executive director of FLSEUS/Japan, said there has been a very visible response to “Abenomics.”
“The policy has been so significant that Japan’s growth rate has rebounded up to 3.2 percent,” Woodward said. “That’s a growth rate that Japan hasn’t seen in a while. The yen-to-dollar exchange rate is also hovering around 100 (yen per dollar), which is much more realistic than it was before.”
Taketo E. Ohtani, a professor in the world languages department, played a role over the last 10 years in introducing USF to Japanese culture and language. He educated the audience about the importance of understanding Japanese customs and culture when doing business in Japan. Ohtani said social norms in Japan, such as not saying “thank you” after receiving a compliment, illustrate the country’s belief that each person is a representative part of all of Japan.
“The visible aspects, like chopsticks and kimonos, are all a part of Japan, but the visible aspects are only a part of a larger whole,” Ohtani said. “The invisible aspects, where I grew up and what I believe, are just as important.”
Keiichi Kimura, the chief executive director of JETRO Atlanta, which works to connect American businesses with compatible business partners in Japan, said conferences like these help make businesses aware of opportunities in Japan.
“Japan is such a large trading partner with the U.S., and these businessmen would like to tap in to that market,” Kimura said. “FLSEUS/Japan and these summits help to make that connection so they can walk away with the information they need to make connections with Japanese business.”