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TWIN FALLS, Idaho — Presidents and CEOs of Japanese companies involved in automation and artificial intelligence returned to southern Idaho this week for another look at potential partnerships that will grow their operations.
They first toured in July to explore opportunities with companies and universities.
“At this point we’re really excited because they’re starting to do a deep dive … honing in on more specific companies and research universities,” Jan Rogers, an economic development consultant and a host of the tours, said.
A couple of the companies are very interested in agricultural production and processing and southern Idaho is of interest to them, she said.
That’s certainly the case for Ichinose Yasutaka, president of Atom Seimitsu, a Tokyo-based company that manufactures robotic equipment for the semi-conductor industry.
This trip marks his fifth visit to Idaho. His goal is to develop robotics for totally automated greenhouses and food processing, he said through an interpreter.
His company’s robotics are already being used in some of the businesses the group toured in July, including a potato packing plant and the Clif Bar bakery.
The first tour was just an introduction to businesses and universities. This time the businessmen are able to sit down with them to explain what they’re looking for more in depth, he said.
And he’s met with a lot of companies and found some he might be able to work with. He’s also had good communications with faculty at the College of Southern Idaho Applied Technology and Innovation Center.
He said he’s hoping those partnerships will fill any gaps in fully bringing his technology to agriculture and food processing. He has one piece of the puzzle and wants to bring the other pieces together.
Yasutaka and the other businessmen represent a collaboration of about 100 small Japanese companies that are looking to expand overseas. Japan’s demographics are stifling those companies’ growth, he said.
Japan has a low birth rate, and its college graduates go to work for big companies, making it hard for the companies to get new blood, he said.
Not only might the College of Southern Idaho help his company with technology, it could also provide interns and future employees, he said.
He has set his sights on the area because the people are great and the area is agriculturally diverse, he said.
Nathan Murray, director of economic development for the city of Twin Falls, said the types of businesses the Japanese companies are looking for already operate there.
Idaho also offers good proximity to the West Coast without the high cost of doing business there, and it’s easier to come to Idaho and get started quickly, he said.
Idaho encourages businesses and doesn’t overwhelm them with restrictions and regulations, he said.
“We’re happy to help facilitate doing business here,” he said.
The collaboration between Idaho officials and the Japanese companies began in 2016 at the SelectUSA Investment Summit in Washington, D.C. In April of this year, Rogers and others went to Japan to continue the conversation, resulting in the recent tours.