11 Oct Doyle’s Japan trip opens doors and minds for Wisconsin
Madison, Wis. — The trade mission of Governor Jim Doyle and Wisconsin businesses to Japan has ended, and the verdict is mission accomplished.
From September 25 to October 1, a team of 27 university and corporate representatives visited Japan to network with and tour Japanese industry, discussing expansion of biotech and manufacturing markets between Wisconsin and Japan.
“We’ve had an incredibly productive and interesting time in Japan, and we continued to be focused on the development of high-tech biotech business and being able to work with Japan in that regard,” Doyle said in a conference call on September 30.
Working closely with Japan has long been seen as key to Wisconsin’s success. Japan is the state’s second-largest trading partner, with annual exports from Wisconsin totaling an average of $800 million. It is one of Doyle’s goals for the state to continue improving this relationship by further branching out into the growing biotech industry that both parties have been building.
“We’ve been licensing technologies to Japan for 35 years, and we’re always looking to expand that role,” said Joel Nelson, a licensing manager with the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation. “Traveling with the governor opens up a lot of variables that were not previously available.”
The role of university
One of the most important parts of the trip was a visit to the Chiba Prefecture, which a “sister state” of Wisconsin and home to the Kazusa Research Center, Japan’s primary DNA research center. While there, Doyle signed an accord with Chiba’s governor — who visited Madison in April with a fact-finding delegation — to move from cultural exchanges to direct economic development.
“It’s good that we have a strong friend here in Chiba, where by putting our universities and research centers together we can come up with applied products in bioscience that can benefit us both,” Doyle said. “We want to make sure what Chiba is doing — particularly in the DNA field — complements what we are doing here in the university.”
The greatest benefit that came up in the talks was the discussion of the relationship between the UW system and the state’s research efforts. According to Charles Hoslet of UW-Madison’s Office of Corporate Relations, representatives at Chiba showed a great deal of respect for how the university had organized the Research Park and the patent arrangements through WARF, and wanted to know how they could recreate that success.
In order to help share the benefits of these connections, Wisconsin representatives held two formal discussion sessions to explain the roles WARF and the university have played in company creation and technology transfer. The sessions also emphasized the need for universities to be more entrepreneurial, and increase research investments.
Hoslet said that Japan recognizes it is behind U.S. universities in entrepreneurial activities, mainly due to a historical context of universities not being viewed as “economic engines.” However, they are taking steps to move forward by lowering national funding for universities by 3% a year, hoping to encourage collaboration with industry. Additionally, Chiba has been spending between $18 million and $20 million for research purposes, building up a framework for collaboration.
“There is a real push to grow the biotech economy in Chiba, and they have invested heavily to do that,” Hoslet said. “They recognize the impact that great research universities like UW-Madison can have on the economy.”
Opening new doors
During the trip, Doyle also spent time with companies that have invested in Wisconsin over the past. The trip offered an opportunity to meet with executives of Kikkoman, the first and largest Japanese company to set up in Wisconsin, and discuss the opportunities for making their relationship more pronounced.
Doyle also visited the 10th anniversary celebration of the Land’s End factory in Japan, which is one of the only Japanese companies to have a woman president and has grown to over 250 employees.
“Wisconsin products are being sold and being recognized as real quality in Japan,” Doyle said of Land’s End. “We’re proud of that and you can tell the company is proud of it.”
Doyle also paid attention to gaining new investments. Since Japan’s cabinet was recently reorganized, Doyle met with the ministers of finance, foreign affairs, and international trade to discuss the opportunities for investment in Wisconsin. Doyle also held meetings with NTT, Japan’s largest phone service provider, which has recently spent millions on research, to see how expansion into Wisconsin could be realized.
The trip was a hit among the attendees and was credited as an opportunity to expand the state’s economic borders. “I think it was very well-planned, well-organized,” Nelson said. “There were new relationships developed that can be nurtured and grown … that should unlock the doors that create opportunities.”
“If we’re going to grow and prosper as a state we have to have markets, and in Japan that means you have to have good personal relationships,” Doyle said. “These kinds of trade missions, when done right and focused really on the markets you need to work on are extremely important to the economy of Wisconsin.”
Les Chappell is a staff writer for WTN and can be reached at email@example.com.