On June 5, Japan’s largest candy maker, Morinaga America Foods, broke ground on its first production facility outside of Asia in Orange County, North Carolina. This facility will create 90 new jobs in Orange County, particularly in the city of Mebane, and will provide investment opportunities totaling $48 million over the next three years. According to Morinaga president Toshiaki Fukunaga, “North Carolina offers a remarkable business environment for companies such as ours [and] we look forward to being an integral part of the community and to years of success here in the United States.”
Representative Howard Coble of North Carolina’s 6th district, who attended the groundbreaking that morning, told Asia Matters for America, “I was honored to participate in the ground breaking for the Morinaga plant in Mebane, North Carolina. While the plant is just across our district line in Orange County, I am sure that some of our constituents will find employment there. I was impressed with the leadership team that Morinaga has assembled, and I am sure that our area is looking forward to these much needed jobs. I am also sure that Morinaga will be an outstanding corporate citizen in North Carolina, and I was pleased to welcome them to our wonderful state.”
As the largest market for candy in the world, with Japan following a close second, the United States is perfect as a production and distribution center for Morinaga’s products. “Charged with introducing the United States to the best of Japanese confectionary,” Morinaga has seen huge success with its line of HI-CHEW Fruit Chews, of which it is the sole marketing and distribution channel for the United States. Recently, production has been centered in Taiwan but with the rise in popularity in the States, Terry Kawabe, Morinaga’s Chief Operating Officer, argued “beginning production in the United States made sense for us from a logistical standpoint. We are proud to say that HI-CHEW will soon be ‘Made in the USA.’”
When it came to looking for a state in the US to set up shop, North Carolina was the logical choice. According to Governor Pat McCrory, Morinaga experienced “an immediate bond with the values of North Carolina […] of people who want to make things and produce things and provide a quality product.” His sentiments were echoed by Mr. Toshiaki, who referenced the state’s motto “to be rather than to seem” when expressing the hope that the company would make his daughter proud. Orange County, which spans North Carolina’s 4th and 6th congressional districts, already has established relationships with Japan and Asia in general. In 2012 exports to Japan were valued at $109 million in the 4th district and $118 million in the 6th, with 31 percent and 30 percent of total district exports going to Asia respectively.
The factory itself will be located in the 4th district, which is under the jurisdiction of Representative David Price. “The Fourth District has long attracted investments from the international business community,” Rep. Price told us. “I am pleased to see that trend continued with Morinaga’s decision to open a new production facility in Mebane that will create 90 jobs in our area. I look forward to visiting the new plant and sampling some of their output.” It is clear that Morinaga’s choice of Orange County will further improve these trade ties and represents “another global stage for North Carolina-made products.”