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New liaison to help APSU connect with state's Japanese-owned businesses

Dr. Rands and Mr. Koyama in front of Harned Hall.

CLARKSVILLE, Tenn. – Earlier this year, Yoshio Koyama, a retired businessman from Japan, set up his new office in Austin Peay State University’s Harned Hall. During the semester, he’s taught a few language and culture classes, but Koyama isn’t a college professor. He is a liaison provided to the University by The Japan Foundation, and for the next two years, he will work at forging relationships between Austin Peay and the Japanese businesses currently operating in Tennessee and Kentucky.

According to the Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development, Japan is Tennessee’s largest foreign investor, with 184 Japanese companies employing nearly 50,000 people in the state. The Asian nation has invested more than $17 billion in Tennessee, and several high-profile companies, such as Nissan North America Inc. and Bridgestone Americas Tire Operation, have opened corporate headquarters in the state.

“We were trying to figure out what is going on around us, how are we interacting with the different manufacturing industries and how do we build bridges between them and us,” Dr. David Rands, APSU associate professor of history and director of APSU’s Asian Studies program, said. “What are their needs and how do we meet those needs?”

Through his relationship with the Consulate-General of Japan in Nashville, Rands learned The Japan Foundation offers a highly competitive program that places six Japanese Outreach Initiative Coordinators in the United States each year. This year, those coordinators went to Michigan State University, Wake Forest University, the University of Texas at San Antonio, Marshall University, the Commonwealth of Kentucky and Austin Peay.

“The Japan Foundation is paying Mr. Koyama’s salary,” Rands said. “Most of these coordinators do outreach to high schools and the community, and he’s doing that too with Japanese culture classes on campus, but we’re trying to get one step beyond that and have Mr. Koyama work with bridging Japanese industry with the University.”

Last spring, Rands presented his proposal to The Japan Foundation, and that organization paired Austin Peay with Koyama, a coordinator with extensive business experience. Before joining the foundation, he worked for 25 years with JICA, the Japan International Cooperation Agency, traveling across the world on different business assignments. Koyama now lives on campus, and he has spent the last few weeks helping Rands develop a database on all the Japanese-owned businesses in Tennessee and Kentucky. They’ve also met with a few executives to find out their needs.

During those initial talks, Koyama and Rands discovered that many of these companies are unfamiliar with certain state initiatives, such as Tennessee Reconnect. That grant program, which covers tuition and mandatory fees in associate degree programs for adult learners without college degrees, could help these companies retain a highly educated workforce.

“In the labor pool for a lot of these companies, a lot is shift labor and they don’t have degrees,” Rands said. “How can we as a university reach out to those companies, partner with those companies to help their employees get back in school? Maybe that means we go to them and offer a class a week in their facility, helping those employees progress toward a degree.”

The University is still in the early stages of this project, but Rands is optimistic about its potential. With Austin Peay’s help, these companies, which have higher turnover rates in America as opposed to Japan, would have a resource for stabilizing their workforces. The partnership also could help the state in its efforts to have 55 percent of Tennesseans earn a college degree or certificate, while assisting the University in its strategic plan goal of enrolling 15,000 students by the year 2025.