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Alabama-Japan relationship celebrated as robust bonds strengthen

Alabama workforce development guru Ed Castile and six growing companies were recognized at a ceremony that showcased the strong economic and cultural ties between Alabama and Japan.

The Japan-America Society of Alabama (JASA) dinner at the Westin Huntsville brought together leaders from government, economic development, education and culture in support of advancing the Alabama-Japan relationship.

“With over 80 Japanese companies now doing business in Alabama, it is important that we continually address the issues that are important to those companies, as well as their employees and families,” said Brian Hilson, JASA’s executive director.

“The incredible economic growth that Huntsville and north Alabama are experiencing, led in part by the Japanese automotive industry, makes Huntsville the perfect setting for our celebration dinner and business forum this week,” he said.

Ed Castile is director of AIDT and deputy secretary of the Alabama Department of Commerce. (Jamie Martin / Governor’s Office)

JASA representatives presented Castile, director of AIDT and deputy secretary of the Alabama Department of Commerce, with JASA’s highest honor, the Samuel Ullman Award. At AIDT, Castile has helped Japanese companies assemble and train their workforces, paving the way for business success.

“Alabama and Japan have enjoyed a long-standing friendship built on strong personal relationships that advance our common goals,” Gov. Kay Ivey said. “Ed Castile is one of the people that made major contributions to this special relationship, and I’m happy to see him receive the Samuel Ullman Award.

“Ed has worked hard to strengthen the economic and personal bonds that tie us together, so this honor is richly deserved,” Ivey added.

Castile said working with Japanese companies in Alabama has been rewarding.

“I am very honored to even be considered for this award and am certainly humbled by it. We have some of the best companies in the world in Alabama, many of which are Japanese. Our Japanese companies, our partners and friends are among the elite,” Castile said.

“The Japanese are brilliant engineers and technicians with vision. But the attribute that stands out to me is their consistent honor and respect for others. They are the very definition of professionalism,” he said.

The award is named for Birmingham’s Samuel Ullman, who wrote a poem called “Youth” that become popular in Japan after World War II.

Gov. Kay Ivey was among the speakers at the Japan-America Society of Alabama dinner in Huntsville. (Hal Yeager / Governor’s Office)

Growing presence

The JASA dinner cast a spotlight on the significant presence that Japanese companies have in Alabama, with operations in industries including chemicals, steel, advanced materials and nutritional supplements, in addition to a heavy concentration in automotive manufacturing.

Japanese companies have invested more than $6 billion in Alabama since 2010, according to Commerce Department data.

Throughout many decades, Japanese companies have become major employers in large cities, including Huntsville and Birmingham but also in smaller communities such as Jasper, Cullman, Steele, Scottsboro and Albertville.

In addition, Japan is a top trade partner for the state, with two-way trade totaling about $2 billion a year. Top Alabama exports include transportation equipment, chemicals, paper and minerals, according to Commerce Department data.

Showa Group, which produces nitrile gloves in Fayette, was one of six growing companies recognized last week by the Japan-America Society of Alabama. (Showa)

During the dinner, six Japanese companies were recognized for launching new growth plans in the state:

Hilson said these six expansions are bringing 257 new jobs and $158 million in capital investment to Alabama.

“Alabama’s robust relationship with Japan has translated into growth and opportunity for local communities all across the state,” said Greg Canfield, secretary of the Alabama Department of Commerce. “It’s a special relationship that transcends business and will endure – and grow – for many decades to come.”

The JASA dinner featured a speech by Peter Kelly, president of the National Association of Japan-America Societies.

The event was followed by a forum that featured Mark Brazeal, vice president of Mazda Toyota Manufacturing, speaking about how the future is unfolding for the $2.3 billion auto assembly plant in Huntsville.

This story originally appeared on the Alabama Department of Commerce’s Made in Alabama website.