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5 companies in Hall have ties to Japan

Automakers in US curtailing manufacturing

POSTED: March 16, 2011 12:25 a.m.

The natural disasters in Japan may seem a world away, but they are hitting very close to home for many in Hall County.

The business community has very strong ties with Japan. There are five Japanese businesses - Kubota, Shintone, Etori, Tatsumi and American Yazaki Corp.- that employ more than 1,000 people in Gainesville and Hall County.

Tim Evans, vice president of development for the Greater Hall Chamber of Commerce, said those businesses are based around Tokyo and Osaka, south of the area that was directly hit by the massive earthquake and tsunami last week.

"I think while all our companies in Hall County haven't necessarily been directly affected, all of them felt the earthquake. Many are indirectly affected by the fallout from the earthquake and tsunami," Evans said.

Evans was scheduled to fly to Japan this week. He had visits planned at the Japanese offices of several of Hall County's Japanese businesses but had to cancel his trip.

"I think it's important that I go when the host companies I'm meeting with, it's more convenient for them," Evans said. "There's much to do in Japan. The human tragedy is unbelievable."

Yoshi Domoto, executive director of the Japan America Society of Georgia, said Kubota — which has its North American headquarters in Gainesville — has started relief efforts in Sendai.

"A lot of their suppliers are located in the Sendai area so they're definitely feeling the aftermath," Domoto said. "They are the largest producers of water pumps in Japan so they're doing a lot of relief efforts. They're producing a whole lot of their supplies and sending them out to the folks who need them the most, who need clean water in the Sendai and Miyagi Prefecture."

Attempts to reach Kubota officials were unsuccessful.

Meanwhile, the disaster isn't expected to have an immediate impact on Japanese auto makers in America, said Butch Miller, general manager of Milton Martin Honda.

"As far as our day-to-day operations are concerned, I don't expect there to be any disruptions in inventory or management," Miller said. "Even though Honda is still considered to be a "foreign car," it's really manufactured and managed almost entirely in the United States."

Some Japanese auto makers are curtailing manufacturing in America out of concern that there will be a shortage of parts coming out of Japan.

Emi Maekawa, a student at Gainesville State College who moved to Georgia from Japan four years ago, has been trying her best to stay in touch with her friends and family in Tokyo over the last week.

She said though Sendai suffered the most devastation, Tokyo experienced damage from earthquakes.

"Everyone is pretty much in Tokyo in the central area, so they're OK. But some of them don't have phones and they don't have the train fixed yet, so most of them are stuck at home and can't work. It's horrible," Maekawa said. "Most of my friends go to school and they live on their own, so they have to make money to survive, but they can't work, so it's sad. There's no gas so they can't even drive."

Maekawa said it's hard to be so far away from the situation.

"At a time like this I feel bad I'm in the states and all my family is over there," Maekawa said. "But at least everybody is fine."

Domoto said his organization is spearheading several efforts to collect donations and help Japanese people in Georgia contact their friends and relatives in Japan.

"We are guaranteeing that 100 percent of the proceeds we collect will go to the victims directly. We've identified several foundations in Japan that will be collecting funds that will go directly to the victims. We're also thinking of possibly donating contributions to the city of Sendai and the Prefecture of Miyagi directly once they're ready to start accepting donations for the rebuilding effort," Domoto said.

Right now, it is difficult to get to the Sendai area to bring supplies for relief efforts.

"We're working with Japanese logistics companies in the states ... and we're trying to find the best ways we can send supplies over to Japan," Domoto said.

Evans said the bond between Georgia and Japan has deep roots.

"Georgia really began its relationship with Japan back in the early ‘60s. The very first large Japanese company to locate in the Southeast United States was in Georgia: YKK. YKK located a zipper manufacturing operation in Macon that still operates today," Evans said. "There's just a long progression of Japanese companies."

Domoto believes Georgians will contribute greatly to relief efforts in Japan.

"Japan and Georgia have a really close relationship both economically and culturally. It's really grown into a really tight partnership," Domoto said. "It's such a tragic incident but it's good to see a lot of folks here in Georgia are reaching out and bringing hope to the people in Japan."



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