MICKEY MAURER Commentary: Hoosiers, wake up to the world

Don’t rest the chopsticks on your food. Don’t blow your nose during the meal and never pour the soy sauce on your rice. These and other tidbits of Japanese dining etiquette had to be digested before our first trade mission to Japan in 2005. That 74-person mission, led by Gov. Mitch Daniels, was the largest delegation of Indiana business leaders and state and local officials ever on foreign shores.

Indiana is the No. 1 manufacturing state in the union. More of our workers per capita are engaged in the manufacturing trades than in any other state. If we are to maintain manufacturing jobs in the face of the domestic automobile corporate meltdown, we must enhance our efforts to attract Japanese and other foreign investments. Success in this endeavor will require that we understand, respect and appreciate cultures from around the world. Our schools, beginning at the elementary level, need to adopt a global curriculum replete with cross-cultural experiences.

It’s not just chopsticks and soy sauce. We need to learn that the game of negotiation is played differently overseas. I remember sitting on the sofa next to the governor during a press conference before that mission trip and listening as he fielded a question from a reporter.

“Do you plan to do a lot of business in Japan?” the reporter asked.

The governor quickly responded, “No, no, no. I have visited Japan a dozen times and that’s just not the way you do business there. We’ll go and make new friends and say thank you to our old friends who have invested in Indiana. We’ll get to know all of these companies a little better and they’ll get to know us. Eventually, perhaps, we’ll talk a little bit about business. You see, in dealing with the Japanese you need the qualities of patience, diplomacy and tact.”

About that time, I elbowed the governor and whispered, “I don’t have any of those qualities.”

In Indiana, we are just a half step off the world stage but we are very connected. Most of us don’t realize that Japan is an important ally in Indiana’s quest to regain vibrant economic growth. More than 200 Japanese companies employ more than 41,000 Hoosiers and have invested over $7 billion in Indiana, more than in any state in the union except California.

Indiana is the only state with two Toyota assembly plants. Last year, Indiana landed arguably the biggest lotus blossom, a Honda assembly plant in Greensburg. The Indiana Economic Development Corp. is working with about a dozen companies that will supply the Honda and Toyota automobile assembly plants in Indiana and most of these companies are owned by Japanese investors.

Private investment from other countries is important as well. During the last two years, Indiana officials have either visited or entertained representatives from India, Palestine, France, Israel, Great Britain, South Korea and many other countries. Recently, Arbonne International and Louis Dreyfus (French), Rolls-Royce and BP (British), and Nestlé (Swiss) established or enlarged their presence in Indiana.

Indiana has a lot to offer friends from overseas. Business taxes and Worker’s Compensation rates are low. Kilowatts are cheap. We reside in the center of the country with a network of roads and regional airports facilitating the shipment of goods everywhere-and fast. Indiana University and Purdue University are two of the largest and most respected public research institutions in the United States. Indiana can offer up other fine assets as well, but other countries and other states compete for this business, too.

Are we ready as a community to compete?

We need to be prepared for the global economy and to recognize that we are part of it. Unless we match Indiana’s location and economic climate with educated and globally savvy hospitable Hoosiers, we will be as welcome to foreign investment as week-old sushi.

Maurer is a shareholder in IBJ Media Corp., which owns Indianapolis Business Journal.To comment on this column, send e-mail to mmaurer@ibj.comor go to IBJ Forum at www.ibj.com.

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