Shizuoka pulls out all the stops in bid to woo foreign investors

by Tomoko Otake

Shizuoka wants you badly — if your company is considering building a base in the prefecture or doing business with any of the 100 or so local firms.

Corresponding with a rising trend among local-level governments nationwide, the prefecture — best known as the home of Mount Fuji — is aggressively campaigning to attract foreign investment.

Shizuoka already hosts 170 foreign firms in sectors ranging from retail to manufacturing, and hopes to see more businesses flood in. It is armed with a range of subsidies and information to guide foreign managers through the often-complicated process of beginning operations in a new city.

In a Tokyo seminar last Friday attended by some 80 managers from foreign businesses in the metropolis, prefectural officials delivered a zealous pitch on the benefits of doing business in Shizuoka.

“Our job as a government is to make your business activities worthwhile and smooth,” said Kazumi Tani, director general of the department of commerce, industry and labor at the Shizuoka Prefectural Government, which sponsored the seminar.

The gathering was cosponsored by the Japan External Trade Organization with the support of The Japan Times.

“I hope you will make your business successful by utilizing our rich business environment, as well as the range of business-support services we offer,” Tani said.

He outlined many reasons why more companies should be interested in setting up a business base in the prefecture: Shizuoka is close to the major markets of Tokyo and Nagoya, yet its land prices — and warehousing costs — are considerably cheaper than in those big cities.

The Tomei Expressway and 24-hour-operating Shimizu port give firms easy access to other cities in Japan and abroad. Shizuoka Airport, opening in 2006, will make way for flights to several other destinations in Asia as well as Honolulu, Guam and Saipan.

Shizuoka also offers various subsidies, including up to 500 million yen for construction of a new plant or research center and a maximum 200 million yen for land acquisition and new employment.

But apart from these financial incentives, flexibility — a word seldom associated with a bureaucracy — played a role in wooing an Oregon-based window and door manufacturer to the prefecture.

Bruce Killeen, general manager of JELD-WEN Japan, recounted reviewing the policies of several prefectures as the firm hunted for a new manufacturing plant site.

Shizuoka matched the firm’s desire to be located near major markets with a large number of housing starts, and it offered a reasonable land price and good local talent. The prefecture has a skilled labor pool thanks to a well-established woodworking industry, Killeen said.

Several prefectures vied to host the new plant, but JELD-WEN decided to locate in Shizuoka partly due to the prefecture’s flexible stance, he said. After the firm’s initial plan to buy land in an industrial park fell through due to high initial costs, Shizuoka officials informed the firm of another vacant office space opening up for rent, and negotiated with the landlord on leasing contracts on behalf of the company.

“Shizuoka Prefecture was actually able to negotiate the land price for us,” Killeen told the seminar. It “showed flexibility, which a lot of other prefectures were not able to offer.”

The firm has 18 employees at its Shizuoka plant, and plans to increase the staff to 30 by the end of the year.

To further boost its profile, Shizuoka will host a “business matching” tour next month. Interested foreign affiliates are invited to meet with 100 local companies — many of them industrial, informational and environmental technology firms — during the three-day Shizuoka Business Fair 2003, which begins Oct. 8. The trip is sponsored by Shizuoka Prefecture.