An organization intended to help small- to medium-sized Japanese businesses set up shop in the United States — using Idaho as a gateway — has opened an office in Boise.
The organization, Hatsu Japan, is headed by Takashi Suzuki, who also owns Sakae Casting, which opened an office in Idaho Falls in 2017.
This office is the result of several years of effort, said Sen. Kelly Anthon, R-Twin Falls, who has been involved with the project because he speaks Japanese.
“This is the culmination of years of work and the development of a relationship with these companies in Japan,” Anthon said. “Japanese companies realize their domestic market is either exhausted or not as attractive as the U.S. market. Our approach is to bring that business to Idaho and give jobs to Idahoans, through partnerships that benefit Japanese companies as well as Idaho.”
Tour of Idaho
Hatsu recently led 26 Japanese companies on a visit to Idaho, where they spent one day in Twin Falls and one day in Boise. In Boise, they met with Gov. Brad Little, attended a session of the Idaho Legislature and peppered Anthon, Lt. Gov. Janice McGeachin and consultant Jan Rogers with questions about doing business in Idaho.
The group — 17 of whom had never visited Idaho before — represented a wider range of industries, including manufacturing and food processing, than previous efforts, which had primarily focused on technology.
One example was Isao Sagara — making his first trip to Idaho at age 85 — who was interested in meeting with Idaho farmers to look into the use their potatoes and other products in frozen korokke, a potato-based croquette that can also include cheese, vegetables and meat. His company, RakuRaku Food, has 38 employees.
“If we say ‘Idaho,’ everyone identifies Idaho with potato,” Sagara said through an interpreter.
What it could mean for Idaho
While the group isn’t working only with Idaho — it is also visiting California and Texas on its trip — Anthon said he believed that Idaho was the only location where Hatsu had set up an office. Sakae Casting originally came to Idaho in 2016 after attempting to meet with California leaders and finding that the company was too small to get much attention from the state.
“That’s what Idaho is providing for these companies,” Anthon said. “They see a realistic possibility for a midsize Japanese firm. They’re not Sony. They’re not Toyota.”
The next step in the relationship is a June visit to Tokyo for Anthon and Rogers.
The two regions have been connecting since a March 2016 visit from Suzuki. In March 2017, the company opened an office in Idaho Falls. In April 2018, it was Sakae’s turn to host Idaho for a visit to several Japanese companies, and in July, seven executives from those companies came back to visit Idaho.
In November 2017, the Idaho Department of Commerce awarded a nearly $238,000 Idaho Global Entrepreneurial Mission (IGEM) grant to the University of Idaho, Boise State University, and the Center for Advanced Energy Studies to partner with Sakae Casting on research and development on spent nuclear fuel storage and cooling capabilities, a project let Sakae to open its office in Idaho Falls.
With the completion of that project, Sakae has now moved its office to Boise, which it will share with Hatsu, Suzuki said through an interpreter.
In addition, Takashi Teraoka, the Consul General of Portland, who is responsible for Idaho, visited Boise in March 2019, as well as again this February.
According to SelectUSA, which sponsors the SelectUSA Investment Conference in Washington, D.C., Japan is the third-biggest source of foreign direct investment (FDI) in Idaho, at 11%, after Germany and Canada. The biggest industry sectors for all countries are food and beverage, with 14 projects out of a total of 38; software and IT services, with five projects and industrial equipment with three projects.