Two local officials who visited Japan in September as part of a Columbus 2020 delegation said the trip offered much more than a chance to attend the annual Midwest U.S.-Japan Association conference.
"We were building a lot of bridges that weren't there before," said Eric Phillips, CEO and executive director of the Union County Economic Development Partnership.
He and Marysville Mayor John Gore met with representatives of companies already doing business in Union County and with other potential employers, visited the city of Yorii and took steps to establish a sister-city relationship between Yorii and Marysville.
Gore and Phillips said they were impressed with the enthusiastic and warm welcome they received on their trip. They hope to return the favor when a 10-member delegation from Yorii visits Marysville Dec. 2-4.
"My hopes are we will be able to finalize the sister city agreement and sign it when they come," Gore said.
Before then, they will make a presentation about the trip at Marysville City Council's Oct. 10 meeting.
As part of the visit's business-retention and expansion mission, Gore and Phillips met with the president and CEO of Sumitomo Electric Industries Ltd., which has a facility on Square Drive in Marysville.
"The president said this is the first time a mayor (of Marysville) has visited. It was big news," Phillips said.
Their visit to Yorii, a city with a population 37,000, included meetings with school and city officials as well as representatives from Honda, which has a new facility in Yorii.
"When we went to Yorii, we spoke at an elementary school," Gore said. "I told them we hoped to develop a relationship and we hoped to be sending some of our students to their school system and that their district would be sending some to ours.
"I asked how many of them wanted to come to Marysville and every hand went up."
Gore said one of the main things he learned from the trip is that Marysville and Union County need to do more to make the Japanese companies in the area feel more comfortable. He said the school district can play a big part in that effort.
"I am surprised the Japanese companies we have in Union County continue to invest in Union County when there is so little we do for their employees they actually send over here," he said.
Honda of America began producing the Accord in Marysville in 1982. More Japanese companies followed. Union County is now home to 17 Japanese companies that provide 6,600 jobs in the county -- 2,300 of those just with Honda of America.
Gore said when Honda first opened, Ed Pleasant, who was then principal at Marysville High School, and current Marysville City Councilwoman Deborah Groat, who was then a teacher at MHS, attended a meeting in Columbus with local representatives and Honda officials.
"The blunt part is they wanted Saturday school," Pleasant said of the Honda employees. "That was important to them to continue their education. We came back here and the school board chose not to participate.
"Worthington is the one that ended up having Saturday school ... students from both Dublin and Marysville ended up going there."
Looking back, Phillips said, "I don't think anyone in the community as a whole thought there was a need."
More than 30 years later, Gore has asked Groat to serve as the city's representative in working with the schools to develop something that will meet the needs of employees who come to the United States. He wants to encourage them to live in Marysville instead of other communities.
"The school board said they weren't going to do it in 1982, but in my opinion, it's not solely the school's responsibility, it's the community's," Gore said.
"If that conversation were to take place today, the city, the county and the schools would sit down and figure out exactly what we can offer and what we need to do. We need to make visitors feel more welcome."
Gore said this is not criticism of past elected officials.
"This is just one of the things I have tried to do in promoting our city," he said. "We have to make things happen and not wait for things to happen."