Thursday, April 12, 2007

Tennessee and Nashville aiming for "dominant international player" image

Nashville is "the most successful recruiter of Japanese business and investment of any city off the West Coast of America"

80% of Japanese citizens in U.S. live in Tennessee and Kentucky

"Hundreds of thousands of jobs" brought by foreign companies

State must be careful not to "send the wrong message to potential investors from all over the world about how receptive Tennessee is"

The BusinessTN Magazine reports here that Tom Jurkovich, chief of economic development for the Nashville Office of the Mayor, is pitching Tennessee as a "dominant international player in the region." Jurkovich made the comment in the context of Japan's recent decision to locate a full-service consulate in Nashville, the first full-service consulate of any country to be located in the state.

BusinessTN points to then-governor and now-U.S. Senator Lamar Alexander's seminal trip to Japan in the early 1980s, which lauched multiple relationships between major Japanese companies and Tennessee. "[R]oughly 80% of Japan’s U.S. population now resides in Tennessee and Kentucky," according to the article.

Nashville Mayor Bill Purcell is currently in China with a delegation of Nashville businesses, according to this Nashville Business Journal article. Purcell is also honorary chair of Sister Cities of Nashville, and in 2004 he created an International Mayor's Night Out (story here),

In February, Mayor Purcell vetoed a foreign language ban passed by the Metro Council, citing in part this month's trip to China and the arrival of the Japanese consulate (story here). In an interview with the Houston Chronicle, Purcell illustrated the conflict between the language ban and Nashville's international business development, by way of his bilingual business cards:

"Purcell, a careful politician who's chosen to make this his first major veto, flips his business card onto his desk in exasperation. On the front his name and number are in English; on the back, in Japanese."

"'My business card would have been illegal,' he said. 'Why is my card in English and Japanese? It's not because I speak Japanese. It's because we are the most successful recruiter of Japanese business and investment of any city off the West Coast of America. We greet Japanese visitors in Japanese at the airport. This law would have said that was illegal. And that's wrong in every way.'"

Mayor Purcell is not the only senior Tennessee official to reach out to China in recent memory; Governor Phil Bredesen met with the Chinese ambassador to the U.S. last year (story here). One Tennessee official is concerned that the state's image abroad can be jeopardized by seemingly innocuous actions - like Nashville's language ban and even a stray comment or two in the recent U.S. Senate campaign, according to this article in the Nashville City Paper:

Matt Kisber, the commissioner of the Department of Economic and Community Development for the State of Tennessee, "is partly charged with recruiting businesses to come to Tennessee," according to the article. "He and the state recently swung and missed at landing a Toyota manufacturing plant in Chattanooga."

"Kisber, speaking with reporters a day after Toyota’s decision and prior to a meeting of the Tennessee Chamber of Commerce and Industry, said the state needs to be 'very careful' when considering putting driver’s license tests only in English."

"'I want to be careful that we don’t send the wrong message to potential investors from all over the world about how receptive Tennessee is to their coming and investing money and creating jobs and their company executives being able to live here and be welcome,' Kisber said."

Kisber also described a meeting with Canadian officials, who were taken aback by a campaign commercial run by now-U.S. Senator Bob Corker, in which a character "specifically referenced Canada, suggesting that the country could 'take care of North Korea' because 'they’re not busy.'"

"'They took that very personally,' Kisber said. 'And I spent the better part of half of my meeting convincing them of why we like Canada.'"

"Kisber said ... the Consular General of Japan has voiced concerns on a 'number of occasions' about measures like putting driver’s license tests in English-only."

"Kisber said the state has a very 'international economy' and has 'hundreds of thousands of jobs' as a result of investments by foreign companies... - includ[ing] about 350 European-based companies, 160 Japanese and a 'dozen or so' South American."

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