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Outside View: Japan woos U.S. biotech
by Shihoko Goto
Gaithersburg, Md. (UPI) Oct 20, 2011

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A delegation of Japanese biotech executives will be in the Washington suburbs this month in hopes of wooing business and corporate partners in Montgomery County, Md., one of the most affluent districts in the United States and which is home to countless numbers of pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies.

But these won't be just any Japanese executives. They will be from Kanagawa Prefecture, from where many commute to Tokyo, just like their Montgomery County counterparts make the trek into the U.S. capital each day.

The prefecture is serious about its trade mission and, to signify just how important they view the success of the tour, the group will be led by Kanagawa Gov. Yuji Kuroiwa with the blessing of the Japan External Trade Organization.

Only a few years ago, local governments across the United States would have bent over backward trying to attract Japanese corporations like those arriving next week to invest in their communities, offering tax breaks and VIP treatment.

For, while companies like Honda gained from the love of the city of Marysville, Ohio, the city was a huge beneficiary too of the automaker's investment as it led not only to more jobs but improved infrastructure and higher incomes.

But even as unemployment becomes the single most pressing economic issue across the United States, wealthy patches of the country such as Montgomery County and the high-value life science industry in particular, aren't worried about what most people country fret about.

The county knows it is a prime location for companies like Terumo and Canon and it doesn't need to kowtow for their business. Life science workers in the area know, too, that their skills are in high demand and that they can comfortably seek out the best bidders for their abilities.

In fact, it simply reflects the realities and challenges facing the United States today. For while jobs are scarce and many workers are spending months, if not years, looking for steady pay in some parts of the country, some regions home to an international group of first-class biotech workers are seemingly unable to hire enough staff.

The schism in income distribution has been highlighted by the Occupy Wall Street protesters. What they haven't really focused on is how in the future, the ability for certain regions and industries to attract top talent will widen the deep divide in America's geographic landscape as well.

So in a county that is home to the National Institutes of Health and internationally renowned bioengineering firms, the Japanese companies are going to have to work incredibly hard to attract the right talent and partnerships.

There's no doubt of the pressure back in Japan for the delegation to succeed. Japan knows full well that it will never be able be able to be the economic behemoth feared and revered worldwide as it was in the 1980s.

It is, however, banking its future on remaining a high-tech giant but also moving beyond electronics, a sector that China and the rest of Asia dominate on the lower-end scale. So it's not just a single prefecture that is pinning high hopes for developing strong partnerships in suburban Washington, it's the entire nation's future that is at stake.

(Shihoko Goto is a former senior correspondent for UPI's Business Desk and is currently a freelance journalist who divides her time between Washington and Tokyo. She has written for Dow Jones, Bridge News, Congress Daily and a number of Japanese publications including AERA, a weekly magazine of Asahi Shimbun.)

(United Press International's "Outside View" commentaries are written by outside contributors who specialize in a variety of important issues. The views expressed do not necessarily reflect those of United Press International. In the interests of creating an open forum, original submissions are invited.)

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