Business Leaders: ‘We Must Learn from Toyota’s Move’

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A view of Toyota Motors USA's headquarters from 190th Street. (J.K. YAMAMOTO/Rafu Shimpo)

A view of Toyota Motors USA’s headquarters from 190th Street. (J.K. YAMAMOTO/Rafu Shimpo)

By ELLEN ENDO, Rafu Contributing Writer

Local Japanese American business leaders called for a closer look at why Toyota Motors decided to move its corporate headquarters and manufacturing out of Southern California and suggested that efforts be made to ensure corporations are incentivized to remain here.

Yoshio Lee Aoki, president of the Japanese Chamber of Commerce of Southern California, commented, “We need more information. It’s important to understand why Toyota made this decision. Of course, corporations can do anything they want, but there are always reasons. We should look at that first.

“We need to have more connectivity with companies like Toyota,” states Aoki, adding that a lot of medium-sized Japanese companies are moving here. “We need to make sure they stay.”

“It affects (all of us) very much,” states Masao “Mike” Okamoto, who heads an architectural firm based in Alhambra. Okamoto, 2014 Nisei Week Japanese Festival chair, points out, “It’s not just one company. Other companies do business with Toyota. The effects will be felt throughout the South Bay.”

Okamoto believes that the cost of living here in Southern California may be a factor, especially for expats (expatriates–Japanese nationals living and working here). “Other locations are very receptive, very aggressive in inviting investment,” he says, pointing out that they may even subsidize housing and offer to establish Japanese language schools.

David M. Miyoshi, a Los Angeles-based attorney who specializes in setting up international corporations for Japanese and other Asian companies, concurs. “If I was an executive at Toyota, I would totally agree with the decision (to move). It is extremely expensive to do business in California, where the focus is skewed toward building jobs, not on building companies.

“It’s almost a no-brainer,” states Miyoshi, who is active in the Japanese American community and a past president of the Little Tokyo Lions Club. “The biggest concern is cost. Everyone wants to make a profit, including employees. (Some) states even offer free real estate, fewer taxes, and the wage level is lower.”

Miyoshi concludes, “We should have learned that lesson when Nissan left California.”

In 2006, Nissan moved its North American headquarters to Nashville. At the time, CEO Carlos Ghosn said, “We made a strategic decision to relocate…because of the long-term benefits associated with overall investment and operational costs.”

In part, Goshn credited the reliable, affordable electrical power provided by the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA), a U.S. government owned corporation that assists with economic development, receives no taxpayer money, and makes no profits.

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