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Firms’ disaster-zone investments up

Toyota, Daio, Jamco among big names, but coastal, Fukushima presence still sketchy

JIJI

Companies are boosting investment in the three Tohoku region prefectures hit hardest by the 9.0-magnitude earthquake and tsunami on March 11, 2011.

New factories have been set up by Toyota Motor Corp., Daio Paper Corp., aircraft interior and parts maker Jamco Corp. and Raraya Corp., a small firm that makes satchels for elementary school students.

“Job offers are certainly increasing,” said an official at the business promotion division at the Fukushima Prefectural Government.

Businesses are playing a major role in economic revitalization in Fukushima, Miyagi and Iwate prefectures, but many of their new bases are in inland areas. In tsunami-devastated coastal areas, the number of new corporate footholds has been limited.

“It will take more time to encourage companies to settle in a way that helps increase the hiring of disaster-affected people markedly,” said an official at the industrial and business promotion division of the Miyagi Prefectural Government.

Toyota established automobile-assembly firm Toyota Motor East Japan Inc. last July by merging three group firms in the Tohoku region.

Toyota regards the new firm in Ohira, Miyagi Prefecturee, as its third major domestic production base, after those in the Tokai region and Kyushu.

Last December, Toyota Motor East Japan started making engines for subcompacts at its new plant in Taiwa, Miyagi Prefecture. The move led six Toyota-affiliated auto parts makers to start operations in the prefecture.

The prefecture is becoming a hub for the automotive sector, the Miyagi official said.

Jamco has completed a factory for aircraft engine parts and other items in the Miyagi city of Natori. Construction of the facility was originally scheduled to begin in April 2011, but was delayed due to the March 11 disaster.

The factory is now slated to begin operating in April. Its workforce is seen reaching 80 within a year.

Iwaki Daio Paper Corp., a subsidiary of Daio Paper, plans to start operations at new cardboard plant in Iwaki, Fukushima Prefecture, in October 2014. Investment in the plant will total ¥8.3 billion.

Raraya launched a satchel factory in Aizuwakamatsu, Fukushima Prefecture, last August. The company aims to increase the number of workers at the plant to 100 in three years from some 30 at present.

“We want to make our contribution to Fukushima’s revival through our satchels,” Raraya President Hiroko Ando said. The prefecture is home to Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant, which experienced three reactor core meltdowns in the March 2011 disaster.

Outside the manufacturing sector, Hotland Corp., which runs the Tsukiji Gindako chain that sells “takoyaki” octopus dumplings, relocated its head office from Kiryu, Gunma Prefecture, to Ishinomaki in Miyagi in December 2011.

The move reflects the firm’s hope to support the region’s postdisaster reconstruction more strongly, officials said. Since the relocation, Hotland has hired more than 100 people at the new head office and opened 10 Tsukiji Gindako shops in and around Ishinomaki.

Amazon Japan K.K., a unit of U.S. online retail giant Amazon.com Inc., established a call center in Sendai in February 2012. NTT Data Corp. launched an administrative office in Ishinomaki in January 2012.

In Iwate, Tsuneishi Facilities & Craft Co. established shipbuilding subsidiary TFC Co. in July 2011. Watami Takushoku Co., a unit of bar-restaurant chain Watami Co., also set up a call center to take orders for boxed meals in February 2012 and hired some 70 people.

Retail giant Aeon Co. plans to launch a large shopping center in the prefecture.

By contrast, the situation remains severe in areas in Fukushima near the crippled Tepco nuclear plant as many factories there remain closed.

Among them are drugmaker SSP Co.’s plant in the town of Namie and toilet maker Toto Ltd.’s factories in the towns of Tomioka and Naraha. The two companies have been unable to decide whether to keep or scrap the plants, while waiting to see if there will be fresh public support or regulations for areas contaminated with radioactive substances from the nuclear disaster.