September 2018 marked the 50th anniversary of the Midwest U.S.-Japan Association Conference, which gathers together representatives from 10 US states and companies from both the United States and Japan to highlight opportunities for Midwestern companies in Japan and Japanese companies in the Midwest.
This year’s conference took place in Omaha, Nebraska. Nebraskan governor Pete Ricketts, who chaired the conference, made a point to highlight how much Japanese investment has benefitted the Cornhusker State. Japan is Nebraska’s largest foreign investor and its second largest trading partner outside of North America. To date, Japanese companies employ roughly 9,400 people throughout the state. One of these companies is Kawasaki Motors, which has been a partnered with Nebraska since 1973. In 2017, Kawasaki opened its first aero structures production line in the United States in Lincoln, and currently employs 2,000 Nebraskans.
In June, during his second trade mission to Japan, Governor Ricketts brokered an agreement between the University of Nebraska – Lincoln (UNL) and Japan’s Kewpie Corporation. Kewpie is famous for its mayonnaise, of which 70% of the soybean oil used in its products comes from Nebraska. In fact, Kewpie has a US-based affiliate in David City, Nebraska known as Henningsen Foods. This new agreement with UNL will allow Kewpie to work with UNL’s Innovation Campus to research the North American market for its products.
Japan is also Iowa’s largest foreign investor. In her remarks at the Conference, Iowa governor Kim Reynolds described the beginning of her state’s trade relationship with Japan, when Iowa sent 1,000 bushels of corn and breeding hogs to Japan after it faced two typhoons in 1959. At the end of September, Iowa’s Bacon Board will hold its second annual Blue Ribbon Japan Bacon Festival in Kofu, Japan, which will feature numerous bacon-themed events including a bacon-eating contest and an international pork fellowship. The first festival in November 2017 attracted over 10,000 participants from across Japan. This should be no surprise, since Japan is the largest export market in terms of value for US pork exports, importing over $1.626 billion worth of US pork in 2017.
Long-standing ties between US states and Japan are not limited to trade. Conference member states Ohio and Michigan recently celebrated 50 years with their sister cities in Japan. Dayton, Ohio will host a delegation from its sister city of Oiso, Japan next year. Michigan, too, recently hosted a delegation from its sister state Shiga, Japan, and next year will send a delegation of its own. Earlier in September, a Japanese garden celebrating this friendship opened in Novi, Michigan, where the largest concentration of Japanese residents live in the state.
Sarah Wang is a Programs Coordinator at the East-West Center in Washington.