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VIEWPOINT: Asian trade mission: different kind of trip

August 22, 2005

Sweat and fatigue.

These two conditions dominate my memories of the recent trade mission to Taiwan and Japan. The week-long mission led by Gov. Mitch Daniels was the largest ever of Indiana business leaders and state officials to these countries.

Many of the more-than-70-member delegation had independent agendas. Those of us who accompanied the governor never had an opportunity to adjust to the Asian clock, which was 14 hours later than Hoosier time (whatever that means). Most days were packed as tight as white rice in a spicy tuna roll. We worked hard. Daniels worked twice as hard. As leader of our delegation, he was called upon throughout the day to speak on our behalf, and he represented us well. Add statesman to the many apt descriptions of this talented governor.

On the street between meetings, we were roasted with 90-plus-degree heat. That's Fahrenheit, but paired with a 90-plus-degree relative humidity, it felt like Celsius. We faced this weather wearing suits and ties matching the dress of our Asian counterparts. Later, we discovered that many of the Japanese adopted business formal in an effort to meet our expectations. Generally, Japanese businessmen are tie-less during the summer. I suspect that both sides would have preferred to do business in kimonos.

The trip included three major receptions and two business seminars. We bought a lot of sushi. We met with hundreds of Taiwanese and Japanese businessmen and -women according to an established protocol that includes a sincere bow and formal business card exchange. (By the way, none of the sushi was paid for with state taxes, but rather by delegate fees and private contributions to the Indiana Economic Development Corporation Foundation.)

We used this opportunity to thank our customers. Japanese businesses have invested more money in Indiana than in every state but Ohio and California. More than 200 companies with Japanese or Taiwanese investments operate in Indiana and employ more than 40,000 Hoosier workers.

Don't ask me if I enjoyed Japan. I didn't see Japan. I saw a lot of Japanese. When my wife Janie and I return, we'll climb Mount Fuji, dive the reefs, shop in Ginza, attend a kabuki performance, and really discover this beautiful country.

The people we met were delightful. Yasuhiro Kumaki, general manager of Nachi Fujikoshi Corp., was a panelist at one of our seminars at which he touted doing business in our state. He was educated at Indiana University. In perfect English, he stated that he became excited about attending IU when he read about the Kinsey Institute. Soon after he enrolled for classes in Bloomington, he presented himself to Kinsey researchers but was rejected because, as he said, "this Oriental had no sexual experience."

One evening I looked forward to dining at a fine Japanese restaurant with the executive officers of Subaru Automotive Inc., only to find that they had opted for a Chinese restaurant. Isn't it wonderful?

People all over the world have that regular hankering for Chinese food.

The mission presented a special opportunity to get to know our fellow travelers, including mayors, businesspeople and legislators. We will be working with these Hoosiers toward the common goal of creating Indiana jobs.

Prospects for economic development are bright in Indiana. We are led by a governor whose chief goal is to increase the economic prosperity in our state, and his Rolodex is the size of the Ferris wheel at Indiana Beach.

The purpose of the mission was not only to thank our Asian investors, but to emphasize that Indiana is a friendly, affordable, well-located state that is "open for business."

Mission accomplished-sweat and fatigue, but worth it.



Maurer is a shareholder in IBJ 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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