On a map of Florida, more than 18 Japanese-owned companies are pinpointed across the state.
South Florida has the most, with only a handful scattered in central and northeastern cities, including the port city of Jacksonville.
Noticeably blank is Florida’s central west coast, including Pasco County.
“I think there has not been much of a connection,” said Japan’s Consul General Ken Okaniwa. “Maybe there is a need to promote yourselves more.”
Pasco business leaders and county officials will get that chance at the 40th annual Southeast U.S./Japan Joint Meeting from Oct. 22 to Oct. 24, in Greenville, South Carolina.
Representatives from Florida, Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Mississippi and Tennessee will participate.
“We want to bring it (trade meeting) to Pasco County in a couple of years,” said Okaniwa. “It’s a wonderful opportunity to create more jobs.”
Encouraging dialogue about more Japanese trade, investment and tourism in Florida is one of the functions of the Japanese consulate, located in Miami.
On July 17, Okaniwa met with more than 20 Pasco County business and community leaders for a business roundtable at Saddlebrook Golf Resort & Spa. U.S. Rep. Gus Bilirakis and The Greater Wesley Chapel Chamber of Commerce sponsored the event.
Okaniwa outlined Japan’s economic ties with Florida in a PowerPoint presentation.
- Japan is the state’s largest investor, with more than $4 billion invested in plants and equipment
- Japan is Florida’s fourth largest trade partner (combined export and imports)
- Japan is the largest importer of Florida grapefruit in the world
- About 278,000 Japanese tourists visit Florida annually, with Disney World the top destination
And, Okaniwa said more than 190 Japanese-owned companies provided about 24,000 jobs in the state, as of 2014.
“The number has been growing,” he added.
Japanese economic and business focus is on six areas, including driverless vehicles, renewable energy, robotics and medical services, especially regenerative medicine.
Okaniwa said Japan investors were involved in “smart city” projects in Orlando and Miami.
Bill Cronin, president of the Pasco Economic Development Council, suggested that Okaniwa reach out to Metro Development Group, which is developing in the Connected City corridor in northeastern Pasco. Cronin plans to attend the trade meeting in South Carolina along with others representing Pasco.
Developers with Metro are building a master-planned community with state-of-the-art technology, including fast Internet connections, driverless vehicles, and tele-medicine.
“It’s truly a live, work, play environment,” Cronin said.
Le Meridian-Autonomous is negotiating with Metro to provide driverless buses for the community, said Ed Franco, the company’s chief innovation lead.
The company has sold buses to Disney, the Tennessee Department of Transportation, and recently a 300-bus order to Taiwan.
Franco also is chief executive officer of Turin Aviation Group, located at the Zephyrhills Municipal Airport. The company provides aircraft maintenance services and unmanned aerial system drones.
“Pasco County is very innovative,” Bilirakis told Okaniwa, who took notes of questions and ideas raised at the roundtable discussion.
John Yo is interested in developing senior living communities. He is managing director for Good Life EB5 Advisors Inc. His company recently opened two facilities in Georgia.
His wife, Julie Yo, is a ReMax Realtor in Lutz. The couple, who live in New Tampa, would like to find locations in Pasco for future senior-living projects. There is a need here, said John Yo.
“It’s a growing (industry),” he added.
The couple, both South Korean natives, said they would like to see direct flights from Japan to Tampa.
Tampa International Airport doesn’t yet have such flights, but there is a Japanese connection.
On the same day as the roundtable, Gov. Rick Scott and representatives of Mitsubishi attended the delivery of train cars for the airport’s innovative people-mover shuttle.
Bilirakis had one last idea to toss out at the conclusion of the roundtable.
Japan and Pasco should work together to bring Japanese baseball teams to the county for spring training, he said.
Okaniwa quickly jotted that on his pad.
“I’ll look into that,” he said.
For information on Japan and trade, visit Jetro.go.jp/en/invest/.
Published July 26, 2017