While Fukushima Prefecture is still suffering from the effects of the Great East Japan Earthquake, Fukushima industry is on the move again with its eyes firmly on the future.
The Fukushima Prefecture website has a logo available for free download. That ‘Fight! Fukushima!’ logo seems to appear all over in Fukushima, but particularly in prefectural government facilities, where, for example, it is used on staff business cards. (It is also printed on the business cards of JETRO Fukushima staff!) In Fukushima Prefecture, companies and local government are all ‘fighting’ in the spirit of that logo to rebuild and restore the region from the effects of the March 2011 disaster.
Fukushima Prefecture is one of the industrial prefectures of the Tohoku region. It tops the region’s other five prefectures in terms of product shipment value, recording 4.8798 trillion yen in 2010. Even on a national scale, this was up alongside Gifu Prefecture (4.6335 trillion yen) and Kyoto Prefecture (4.5903 trillion yen). A breakdown of that shipment value reveals that the information industry accounted for 16.2 percent, chemicals 9.7 percent and electronics (parts) 9.2 percent.
Fukushima Prefecture has put particular energy in recent years into developing and stimulating the medical and welfare apparatus industry. In his first press briefing for the New Year this year, Fukushima Prefectural Governor Yuhei Sato too noted that a stable prefectural economy depended on fostering highly competitive industries that were relatively impervious to economic conditions. To that end, he stated that government, universities and industry would work together in, for example, medicine-industry partnerships, to push harder on developing and stimulating the medical and welfare apparatus industry and turning research results into business, as well as promoting the development of new sales channels in Europe and other offshore markets. A lot of momentum has accordingly developed in Fukushima Prefecture toward building the medical and welfare apparatus industry through a coordinated industry, university and government effort.
And then came March 11—the day on which everything changed. Some companies suffered tsunami damage, others had their factories destroyed in the earthquake, and on top of that there was radiation from the nuclear accident. Fukushima Prefecture as a whole decided to focus first and foremost on recovery, so the prefecture’s entire industrial promotion support budget too was moved across into disaster recovery, with issues such as industrial promotion moving well down the priority list.
There are, however, some firms which were left relatively unscathed by the disaster and which have taken the disaster as a call to action.
JETRO operates a Regional Industry Tie-up Program (RIT) to support inter-regional industrial exchange between Japan and other countries, and one area receiving RIT support is medical and welfare apparatus industrial exchange between the Koriyama region in Fukushima Prefecture and the Wonju region of Korea. Before the disaster, both regions had sent missions to each other’s region as part of deepening exchange possibilities. In June, when the scars left by the disaster were still fresh, companies from both regions met in Tokyo to conduct business talks. With companies and associations from both sides feeling strongly that it was in times such as these that the spark of exchange could not be allowed to go out, the June business talks resulted in numerous technical cooperation agreements. Subsequently, a business mission from Koriyama visited Wonju in October, and in February 2012 Wonju companies are scheduled to visit Japan, with ties between the two regions becoming steadily closer.
As of autumn, six months after the disaster, when Fukushima Prefecture was beginning to settle down again, a program supporting companies’ offshore expansion which is operated jointly by Fukushima Prefecture, related institutions and companies and JETRO, was also launched back into full swing.
At the Canton Fair in mid-October, JETRO set up a Japan booth comprising booths from the three disaster-hit prefectures—Iwate, Miyagi and Fukushima—where prefectural governments and companies showcased local industry and tourism. This booth was organized between the Japanese and Chinese governments to support disaster-hit areas of Japan, and Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao and METI Minister Yukio Edano both made an appearance. Participation from the hard-hit areas of Japan in China’s top trade fair attracted much attention, with heavy media coverage both within China and from Japan and elsewhere, to the extent that the staff operating the Fukushima Prefecture booth struggled to deal with all the interest. Thanks to the event, however, the image of a thriving, forward-looking Fukushima was transmitted via a whole range of media, helping to wipe away reputational damage.
In November, Fukushima Prefecture and JETRO also set up a Fukushima Prefecture booth at MEDICA 2011, one of Europe’s top medical and welfare apparatus fairs, Featuring three local universities and four local companies, the booth had been planned by Fukushima Prefecture back at the beginning of 2011, and the planners had to overcome a number of post-disaster difficulties to finally get the booth in place. The booth was given a position on the main street of the national exhibition hall. The Fukushima derivation of the exhibitors attracted considerable attention, and the booth welcomed a constant stream of visitors. On their return home, the exhibiting universities and companies noted that there had been a lot of interest, and in particular that they had received a lot of enquiries from not only German and European firms but also companies from Asia and the Middle East, to which they were working hard to respond. They were accordingly very pleased that they had taken part.
Fukushima Prefecture is still in the midst of its recovery from the Great East Japan Earthquake and there are still many hurdles to overcome. However, there is now a palpable sense of the people of Fukushima beginning to move forward. We sincerely hope that at least one or two of the companies discussed here will succeed in their offshore business, with a string of other companies following in their wake.
The year 2012 will truly be the year of ‘Fight! Fukushima!’.
(original article : Japanese)