Crawfordsville Mayor Todd Barton landed in Indianapolis on Friday afternoon after a whirlwind seven-day trip to Japan.
The mayor was part of Indiana Governor Eric Holcomb’s team that traveled to Japan to develop and strengthen economic development relationships, and he believes there was a level of success achieved.
The state is currently home to 280 Japanese companies. Columbus has 20 of those companies in its city. Barton said the governor told the Japanese businessmen he hoped to expand that number to more than 300 within a few years.
Before the trip, Barton had been told that relationships are important to Japanese leaders. After having a few days to reflect on that statement, the mayor is now a firm believer that relationships are a key to economic development.
Barton visited the corporate headquarters of Heritage Products, which employees 300 local residents. Although he had met some of the corporate officers in his own office, he said the fact he met them at their corporate headquarters was more important.
“It is expected from Japanese corporations that we travel to their country to strengthen relationships,” Barton said. “It is invaluable, that after 29 years of Heritage Products in Crawfordsville, that this was the first time someone from our town had made the trip. It is important for our 300 employees in Crawfordsville and our community that we went.”
Barton said a second benefit was he was able to make contact with other Japanese firms looking to invest in Indiana. He said the discussion opened dialog for additional investment that could potentially land in Montgomery County. Some of the companies have committed to coming to Indiana within the next few months.
A third benefit for being a part of the trip has a more local connection. Barton said that state economic development leaders now understand that Crawfordsville is on the map and doing the things necessary to attract business at a level not seen before.
“In the eyes of the Indiana Economic Development Corporation, we are now considered a contender for new companies coming to Indiana,” Barton said. “They are aware of the changes we have recently made and we are now on their radar as a investment site.”
Barton has heard time and time again from Japanese firms that the number one concern is the lack of a trained workforce in the Hoosier state. The problem is state-wide and Barton said Gov. Holcomb’s emphasis to address the problem encouraged the business leaders. Barton was able to explain the local efforts that local businesses, colleges and county school corporations are collaborating on to address the workforce issue.
“Workforce development is a significant issue when talking with the Japanese businesses,” Barton said. “The governor was able to explain all the state is now doing and I was able to talk about what Montgomery County is doing to address the problem. They seemed pleased to know that we are addressing the concern.”
The trip represented the first time Barton has traveled to Japan. He was impressed that everyone has a job in the country and that customer service is a number one priority. He said traveling from Japan and landing at Chicago’s O’Hare Airport impressed upon him how much better customer service was across the ocean. He also was impressed that he was able to travel on a train that was always on time and reached speeds of nearly 200 miles per hour.
“We are not going to see immediate results from this trip, but I can assure you it was well worth it,” Barton said. “The schedule was very busy and we did not have time to sightsee. It was all business and it was not easy.”