Marysville Mayor John Gore and Union County Economic Development Executive Director Eric Phillips will travel to Japan Sept. 6 as part of a Columbus 2020 delegation -- and they have an "app" for that.
The two are having fun sharing the app -- which translates English to Japanese -- as they prepare for the Midwest U.S.-Japan Association Conference. Gore plans to return Sept. 14 and Phillips will be back on Sept. 17.
A group from Japan plans to make a reciprocal visit to Marysville Dec. 2-4.
The conference is just part of the reason for the trip. The group also plans to visit companies with investments in the Columbus region as well as companies that might be considering locations in central Ohio.
"It's a retention visit where you visit existing companies," Phillips said. "We're also potentially meeting with other companies to locate here."
Union County's ties to Japanese businesses are obvious, since Marysville has been home to Honda of America since 1982. Gore and Phillips both said they can find no record of city or county officials visiting Japan in the last 31 years, despite the number of Japanese businesses in Union County.
According to Phillips, 16 Japanese companies employ approximately 6,615 people in Marysville and Union County. Over the past 35 years, these companies collectively have invested nearly $5 billion in Union County, with Honda investing $4.4 billion of that total, he said.
"About 25 percent of the jobs in Union County are from Japanese companies, so we already have close ties," Phillips said.
He said the visit to Japan "is an exchange. It's sharing ideas. We're trying to build that relationship into something, whether it's a friendship city or a sister city."
Gore and Phillips will travel to Yorii Town, Osato District, Saitama Prefecture in Japan to visit with community leaders. Honda recently began production at the new Yorii assembly plant for the redesigned Fit/Jazz.
"They (Yorii city officials) would like to know the impact of the Honda plant on us compared to what they're going to experience," Phillips said.
Gore said the idea of a sister city began at the annual Union County Chamber of Commerce meeting in 2012 with the Counsel General of Japan, Kuninori Matsuda.
"He was the guest speaker and he couldn't understand why we didn't have a sister city," Gore said.
He and Phillips both said they don't know of any attempts by Marysville in the past to establish a sister city in Japan. They also hope to build a relationship that includes an exchange program for students.
"I'm actually meeting with the Marysville schools," Gore said, noting that Superintendent Diane Mankins has asked all school principals to provide something about each building "so we can show them what our school system looks like here."
Gore said some people may not realize how many Japanese companies have facilities in Union County or recognize the importance of fostering those business relationships.
"It's a global economy. We have to be competitive," he said. "We have to continue to be aggressive in these things. We can't sit back and wait for it to happen.
"We're competing against other communities just here in central Ohio that want to get some of our businesses to relocate," he said. "The impact the Japanese companies have had in this community is just unbelievable."
"Any community in America would dream to have the Japanese presence we have," he said.