OMAHA – Governor Pete Ricketts was joined by 400 U.S. and Japanese delegates for the third and final day of the 50th Annual Conference of the Midwest U.S.-Japan Association (MWJA) in Omaha. The Governor presided over closing ceremonies this afternoon.
“It’s been an honor to host the 50th annual anniversary of this important conference, which helps us strengthen the ties between the Midwest U.S. and Japan,” said Governor Ricketts. “Midwestern states provide a great opportunity for Japanese companies to be able to invest and grow, and while doing so create great-paying jobs. We’re grateful for the business and cultural relationships we share, and look forward to creating new opportunities and partnerships, while continuing to build upon our bilateral trade going further into the future.”
The MWJA conference is considered to be the pinnacle forum for discussion on strengthening business and trade relationships between Japan and the Midwestern states. Omaha was selected to host this year’s special 50th anniversary. The longstanding and important economic ties between Japan and the United States have been a focal point of the event, the theme of which is “Growing Together in a Global Economy.”
Featured speakers at today’s closing session included Kansas Governor Jeff Colyer; Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner; Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker; Shizuoka Prefecture Vice Governor Akihito Yoshibayashi; MWJA Japan Conference Chairman Yuzaburo Mogi, MWJA U.S. Conference Honorary Chairman Gordon Dobie; and the Honorable Mitsuhiro Wada, Consul General of Japan in Detroit.
During the ceremonies, Governor Ricketts presented a token of appreciation to Koji Nagasaka—Director of Nebraska Center Japan, a division of the Nebraska Department of Economic Development (DED) devoted to Nebraska-Japanese economic relations—for his service. The Governor also presented Consul General Wada with a gift on behalf of the State of Nebraska.
The conference kicked off Sunday at Anthony’s Steakhouse before a welcoming event at Kaneko gallery. On Monday, daily proceedings commenced at the downtown Hilton. Monday night, the Governor hosted the delegates for MWJA’s 50th Anniversary Gala at the Durham Museum, sponsored by Union Pacific (UP) and Kawasaki. UP Chairman, President, and CEO Lance Fritz and Kawasaki President Yoshinori Kanehana joined Governor Ricketts on stage for keynote remarks. The evening closed with music by Omaha’s own Mannheim Steamroller.
Today’s slate began with a breakfast featuring keynote speaker Ted McKinney, U.S. Department of Agriculture Under Secretary for Trade and Foreign Agricultural Affairs. Governor Ricketts presented Under Secretary McKinney with a Sandhill Crane painting in appreciation of his advocacy for the Midwest and Nebraska agriculture.
Breakfast was followed by a plenary session that highlighted success stories on trade and investment between Japan and the Midwest. Featured private sector participants included J.P. Morgan and Co., Mitsui Sumitomo Insurance Co., Ltd, Nebraska-based Preferred Popcorn, Marubeni Corporation, and Keizai Doyukai. The session was moderated by Japan External Trade Organization (JETRO) Chairman and CEO Hiroyuki Ishige.
Nebraska and Japan share their own success story, with Japan being the second-largest importer of Nebraska products outside of North America and third-largest agricultural export market overall. Nebraska’s exports to Japan topped $1.03 billion in 2016, while beef and pork exports to Japan increased by 26 percent and 46 percent, respectively.
Governor Ricketts also met one-on-one today for an interview with the financial publication Nikkei, followed by a meeting with Shizuoka Prefecture Vice Governor Akihito Yoshibayashi, in which the leaders discussed the decades-long friendship between Nebraska and Shizuoka. Omaha and Shizuoka, the prefecture’s capital city, have had a sister city relationship since 1965.
The delegates wrapped up the conference this afternoon with a tour of Kawasaki’s facilities in Lincoln. Kawasaki USA, a subsidiary of Japan-based Kawasaki Heavy Industries, has been investing in Lincoln since 1974, and recently expanded with a first-in-the-U.S. aerostructures division. The company employs over 2,000 Nebraskans.
More information about the conference proceedings can be found at midwest-japan.org.