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Japanese business representatives to visit Idaho

By Nina Rydalch
For Eastern Idaho Business Report

Idaho is usually not the first place most international business owners consider when expanding to the U.S.
However, for five Japanese companies sending representatives to the state this July, Idaho may be the location of their first outlet in the country, said Jan Rogers, CEO of Regional Economic Development for Eastern Idaho (REDI).
This visit is not out of the blue, Rogers said, but rather the result of a trip she and others made to Japan in April. Rogers said she didn’t expect the companies to come to Idaho so soon after the initial meeting, and described their reciprocal visit as “a plus.”
“For us, success would be, ‘we met with many companies; we began to build relationships that we can continue to foster,’” she said. “But not really the expectation that we would have five companies coming over within a couple of months of our visit.”
Rogers said east Idaho’s relationship with Japanese manufacturing company Sakae Casting was key in securing the April meeting with 15 more Japanese businesses.
Sakae Casting opened a satellite location in Idaho Falls in 2017 after owner Takashi Suzuki spoke with REDI representatives about opportunities available in Idaho. Rogers said Suzuki ultimately decided to come to the state upon receiving an Idaho Global Entrepreneurial Mission grant to work with the University of Idaho and the Idaho National Laboratory on new nuclear cooling technologies.
“That led to the next opportunity,” Rogers said. “Which was to actually leverage our relationship with Sakae and make a trip to Japan to not only see their business and thank them for their business, but also to be introduced to other companies that were interested in coming into the Idaho market.”
Marc Skinner, executive officer of the University of Idaho Idaho Falls campus, said the university’s relationship with Sakae Casting is a good example of how international businesses can help Idaho progress. Skinner, who accompanied Rogers and others to Japan, said he will be among those who greet the Japanese businesses when they visit in July.
“I look forward to seeing them and following up,” he said. “That’s the meat of the whole trip, I think, is making sure we follow up and keep things moving.”
Rogers said she tells companies to consider Idaho their “front door to the U.S. market.”
“We are easy to do business with,” she said. “We have the time to give them the attention needed to help move their business successfully in the U.S., through Idaho.”
Rogers said this is the first time she knows of that an Idaho economic development group has travelled internationally to convince businesses to consider coming to the state. However, she said she doesn’t think it will be the last.
“There are other opportunities that we could explore as well,” she said. “We could explore Canada, as an example.”
Canadian company eCobalt, which recently announced the opening of a mine and silver refinery in Blackfoot, could be east Idaho’s door to the country up north, Rogers said.
“We’ve had limited resources,” she said about REDI and east Idaho. “The best possible outcome is you take what you have and you expand on that and leverage that so that you have more opportunity.”
Rogers said she thinks a big part of marketing east Idaho is talking about the whole region — from the INL, to the two universities, to the multiple businesses in between. With this being REDI’s third year in action, Rogers said the success of that marketing strategy so far has been exciting.
“There’s a lot going on in eastern Idaho,” she said. “And I think in a very short period of time, we’ve been able to harness that story in a way that we can begin to tell that on a national, international level, so that we will be a consideration when companies and folks are in the market.”