Five governors from the Midwestern United States recently traveled to Japan to meet with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and attend the 49th Annual Joint Meeting of the Midwest US-Japan Association. This year’s meeting focused on “Midwest US-Japan Strategies for Economic Growth.” The attending governors came from Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Nebraska, and Wisconsin, with many having already travelled to Japan several times.
Japanese companies in America have contributed significantly to local Midwestern economies, and leaders from both countries exchanged their appreciation of each other’s efforts to strengthen the Japan-US economic relationship. They emphasized the fact that Japanese companies in the United States have created new investments and jobs. “The US Midwest-Japan Association Conference is an outstanding opportunity for Nebraska to thank our number one direct foreign investor and for our agriculture and business leaders to build relationships that grow bilateral trade,” said Governor Ricketts of Nebraska, where the 2018 joint conference will be held.
The first Midwest-Japan Association meeting took place in 1967 in Chicago, and was intended simply to initiate a dialogue between executives from diverse business environments. Even though there were no definitive conclusions, those attending decided to hold annual meetings to discuss economic relations between the Midwestern United States and Japan. Additionally, the Association has developed new goals, promoting mutual exchanges to enhance trade, investment, industry, technology, and culture. Aside from Association meetings, Midwestern governors have long used these annual trips to directly expand US-Japan ties. Vice President Mike Pence — during his tenure as governor of Indiana — visited companies like Mitsubishi, which agreed to invest $11 million to expand its Indiana campus in 2013. Other governors, like Governor Rick Snyder of Michigan, took the opportunity to visit their sister states and cities in Japan.
The Midwest is home to thousands of Japanese companies that bring hundreds of thousands of jobs to the region. Japan is currently Michigan’s second largest Asian destination for exports, most of which are automobile-related. Japan mainly favors importing computers and other electronics from Wisconsin, a trade worth almost $350 million. Exports worth almost $2 billion were sold from Indiana to Japan in 2016 alone, while exports to Japan from Illinois are even greater, with a value of almost $3 billion. Meanwhile, Japan is Nebraska’s largest export destination for its beef and pork products. The country is also the largest foreign investor in Nebraska, with Japanese companies supporting about 9,400 jobs there. Aside from trade and investment, cultural exchange between the Midwest and Japan is also growing, and they share a number of sister cities.
Heejae Park is a Research Intern at the East-West Center in Washington D.C. and an Asan Washington Young Fellow with the Asan Academy in Seoul.
Savannah Shih is a research intern at the East-West Center and a graduate student of Asian Studies at the George Washington University in Washington, D.C.