Japanese companies are pouring resources into Alabama at a stunning rate in recent years, accelerating their growth, branching into new sectors of the economy and employing thousands of Alabamians along the way. According to several government officials Yellowhammer spoke with on Monday, that’s no accident, but is a direct result of Alabama’s right-to-work laws and low tax, low regulation business climate.
Representatives from the Alabama Dept. of Commerce recently made the 16-hour flight from Alabama to Japan to attend an annual meeting of the Japan-Southeast US Association and the Southeast US-Japan Association.
The two associations are represented in the U.S. by the seven Southeastern states of Alabama, Georgia, Mississippi, Tennessee, South Carolina and Florida. The purpose of the associations and the yearly joint meeting is to promote two-way trade and investment opportunities. The associations’ membership is made up of high-level government officials, corporate executives and is a public-private partnership.
This year’s meetings came at a time of particularly high growth among Japanese businesses operating in Alabama, leading the state’s delegation to meet with companies in a wide range of industry sectors, including insurance, biosciences, chemical, automotive and pharmaceuticals.
“Over 70 Japanese companies have chosen to invest capital to operate in Alabama and to employ over 12,000 Alabama workers,” Alabama Commerce Secretary Greg Canfield told Yellowhammer. “The Japanese business culture places great emphasis on teamwork, quality, dedication and innovation. These Alabama-Japanese companies have found our state to be ideal as a right-to-work state; a state with a supportive governance and regulatory environment; a state whose workforce provides the dedication to quality, teamwork and innovation necessary to meet and exceed customer expectations; which all translates to market growth and success in the North American markets by choosing to locate in Alabama.”
State senator Clay Scofield (R-Arab), whose district is home to several Alabama-Japanese companies, also attended the meetings and said that Alabamians should be excited about the state’s business climate, which is consistently attracting international companies from around the globe, including Japan.
“Japanese companies have a huge presence in Alabama,” he said. “Big ones like Daikin in Decatur and Honda, obviously, but we’ve got some great smaller firms, too. For instance, TS Tech makes seats for Honda. They employ hundreds of Alabamians. They’re the biggest non-poultry employer in our county.”
When we asked Scofield why he believes the international companies are flocking to Alabama, he repeated what has become a familiar refrain among Alabama’s economic development community.
“It’s all about right-to-work,” he said without hesitation. “They are really big on that. They don’t want to do business if it’s not a right-to-work state.”
Scofield added that Alabama has become a real manufacturing hub for Asian companies, even while American companies outsourcing to China tend to get most of the press coverage.
“These ‘foreign cars’ are really made here in Alabama,” he said. “We should be proud of it and encourage more development in that area. We hear so much about our manufacturing now being done in China, but these companies are great examples of Asian companies manufacturing right here in Alabama. That’s a really big deal.
“The other side is that it’s also a great way to increase exports for domestic companies,” he continued. “Alabama-based companies through networking can increase their export potential. That means additional jobs.”
The association meetings alternate each year between a location in Japan and a location in one of the Southeastern states. Next year, the meeting will be hosted in Birmingham, Ala., and the Yellowhammer State will undoubtedly be rolling out the red carpet to new companies and new jobs.
Follow Cliff on Twitter @Cliff_Sims