Apr 12, 2024 - News

Japanese PM's visit highlights growing ties with North Carolina

Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida offers a toast during a luncheon in his honor in the Benjamin Franklin Room of the State Department in Washington, DC, April 11, 2024. (Photo by ROBERTO SCHMIDT / AFP) (Photo by ROBERTO SCHMIDT/AFP via Getty Images)

Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida offers a toast during a luncheon at the State Department in Washington, D.C. Photo: Roberto Schmidt/AFP

It is rare for a foreign head of government to visit North Carolina — but Japan's Prime Minister Fumio Kishida's arrival is proof that the country's influence in the Tar Heel State is ascendant.

Why it matters: Japan has become an increasingly important part of North Carolina's economy, recently overtaking Germany as the largest source of foreign direct investment, according to the N.C. Commerce Department.

Driving the news: Kishida, who visited the White House earlier this week, will Friday get a look at North Carolina and Japanese ties. The prime minister will visit the under-construction Toyota battery plant, which could eventually employ 5,000 people in Randolph County, and HondaJet's growing Greensboro facility.

  • His visit coincides with Fujifilm Diosynth's announcement Thursday it will invest $1.2 billion to expand local operations.

By the numbers: Between 2018 and 2022, Japanese companies have announced more than $6.6 billion in investment in North Carolina and more than 5,166 new jobs, according to the Economic Development Partnership of North Carolina.

  • Japan-based companies — including large employers like Fujifilm Diosynth, HondaJet, Morinaga, Astellas Gene Therapies and Sumitomo Pharma — employ more than 30,500 people in North Carolina.
  • Japan's Nagoya University also has established its U.S. campus on N.C. State's Centennial Campus.

State of play: North Carolina has been aggressively courting Japanese businesses for years.

  • Gov. Roy Cooper has visited Tokyo twice during his time as governor, in 2017 and in 2023, in an attempt to meet and develop relationships with business leaders there.
  • State and local governments have offered hundreds of millions of dollars in tax breaks and incentives to land large expansions, such as Toyota's Randolph County battery plant, HondaJet's Greensboro factory, and Fujifilm Diosynth's $2 billion drug-and-vaccine plant in Wake County.

What they're saying: "North Carolina is an ideal location because of the Research Triangle, because of its location in logistical networks, and more than that, the people," Masashi Mizobuchi, assistant press secretary of Japan's Ministry of Foreign Affairs, told Axios of increasing investment here by Japanese companies.

  • "Japanese people and North Carolina people are very similar, I think," he said. They both have "resiliency and high working ethics. I'm sure that (Japanese) business people here and their families are so easy to adjust themselves" to living in the state.
  • More than 6,000 Japanese citizens live in North Carolina, he added.

Between the lines: On Friday, Cooper will host a lunch in Raleigh for Prime Minister Kishida, featuring catering by Raleigh chef Ashley Christensen, while the rest of the Japanese traveling party dines on Sam Jones BBQ.

  • First Lady Kristin Cooper will also take Kishida's wife, Yuko, on a tour of the Sarah P. Duke Gardens, which has a Japanese-inspired garden section and a pavilion that serves traditional Japanese tea.
Japanese prime minister in North Carolina
On Thursday night, Gov. Roy Cooper and First Lady Kristin Cooper greeted Prime Minister of Japan Kishida Fumio and his wife, Kishida Yuko, at Raleigh-Durham International Airport. Photo courtesy of Gov. Cooper's office

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