KITAKAMI, Iwate Pref. (Kyodo) This northeastern city with a population of 92,500 has been so successful in inviting businesses to set up shop that other cities are studying the “Kitakami model.”
The municipal government first tried luring enterprises in the latter half of the 1950s when Japan was moving rapidly toward its miraculous economic expansion.
At that time, Kitakami was competing to build industrial complexes but was not a conspicuous player, even within industrially weak Iwate Prefecture, whose main industry is agriculture.
But now there are eight industrial complexes plus a logistics base and an industrial activities center — making Kitakami the largest city in the prefecture in terms of industrial output.
These structures occupy 640 hectares, and 80 percent of them have already been sold.
There are 226 companies operating in the industrial zones, and many of them have their head offices outside Iwate Prefecture.
“In looking back on the performance of my predecessors, there has been no particular magic,” said Akira Ito, who has been Kitakami’s mayor since 1999. “They accumulated steady efforts, and I am now succeeding them.”
The officials in charge of inviting companies carefully read economic newspapers and magazines every day, and when they read of enterprises planning to expand their plants and businesses, the mayor and other officials immediately form a team to visit them.
“Compared with other local governments, we offer no special favorable tax or other treatment,” said Akihiro Ishikawa of the commerce and industry section. “Persuasion is the municipal government’s only enterprise invitation method.”
Tsugawa Co., an electronics equipment manufacturer based in Yokohama, is one of the enterprises that decided to locate in the city.
“The environment is good, and we can enjoy a peaceful life,” said Namio Yaegashi, an executive director.
The invitation to a company is not the end of the matter.
“What is important is what follows,” Ito said. “As an after-invitation service, we are trying to create an environment where employees can work comfortably.”
The municipal government sends questionnaires to invited enterprises regularly, and its officials visit them to hear about their requests. Based on the questionnaires and requests, the municipality has, for instance, increased the number of traffic lights on the streets in the complexes, and extra efforts are made in winter to remove snow.
Ito said the invitation program targets medium-size companies.
“It is our principle not to become a business castle town dependent on a major enterprise. We would be hard hit if such an enterprise closed its plant as part of restructuring.”
Various businesses have been invited, including electrical, precision machinery, iron and steel, and nonferrous metal companies, he said.
Mitsuhiro Seki, a professor at Hitotsubashi University, called the “Kitakami model” an excellent example of business invitation and said the hospitality of the city’s residents in welcoming outsiders is at the heart of the city’s success.
“In ancient times, Kitakami was a posting station with ships carrying goods on the Kitakami River, and so it has had an open climate,” Ito said.
Kitakami’s ratio of job openings to applicants is more than 1.0, nearly twice the national average.
The rate of employment for graduates of the prefecture-run Kurosawajiri Technical Senior High School is 100 percent.
“Most families nowadays have only one child, and many parents are hoping their child will find a job locally,” Shinya Suganuma, chairman of the school’s PTA, said. “We are helping them realize their hopes.”
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