East meets West Virginia on trade trip

February 02, 1997


Staff Writer, Martinsburg

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - For West Virginia business leaders, recent trade missions to Japan have been a lesson in culture as much as a chance to expand enterprises.

Trading business cards is a big thing among Japanese executives right now, state and local business officials say, and there is an art to the exchange.

The proper way to offer a business card to a Japanese guest requires both hands, said Shepherdstown developer Ken Lowe, who joined about 20 people on the most recent trip to Japan last week.


Then, Lowe said, the two business officials bow, with the American careful not to bow any higher or lower than the Japanese counterpart, Lowe said.

The two parties then read the cards aloud, and the U.S. visitor must be careful not to write on the card or stick it away in a pocket.

"It may sound like trite stuff (but) it's all a big deal," said Lowe.

So big, in fact, that any screw-up in the card-trading procedure could kill a business deal, Lowe said.

Lowe, Martinsburg attorney Clarence E. "CEM'' Martin and local businessman Mitch Boswell were part of a delegation of business and government officials who joined U.S. Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., last month for a two-week trade trip to Japan and Taiwan.

Dubbed "Project Harvest 1997,'' the goal of the trip was to encourage Asian companies to expand in West Virginia and to help businesses here find new markets abroad.

Although group members declined to mention any details, they said the contacts they are making in Japan and Taiwan will likely pay off for the Eastern Panhandle.

"There are more things on the horizon,'' Lowe said. "Watch what materializes.''

Interest in foreign investment in the Panhandle has been increasing among local business leaders and officials, and Martin said he is encouraged by the efforts.

Although some Asian markets are booming, Japan's economy has been unstable in recent weeks, and state officials are hoping to convince Japanese businesses that expanding their operations to West Virginia is an effective way to beat market downturns.

Other local developers like Van Wyk Enterprises have started to look at ways to increase foreign investment in the Eastern Panhandle, and last week the three county development authorities announced they will combine forces to help attract foreign investment.

"We have a significant international community in this area, and I think people are starting to realize we are in a global economy," said Martin.

One of the most significant foreign investments in the state to date has been the Sino-Swearingen Aircraft Corp., a jet manufacturing plant that is expected to create up to 800 jobs after it is built at the West Virginia Eastern Regional Airport near Martinsburg.

Efforts to lure the plant here were largely spearheaded by Rockefeller, who is considered to be one of the most influential players in the Japanese trade market. His family has had ties with Japanese officials for years, and Rockefeller studied the Japanese language for three years in Tokyo during college.

Boswell learned first-hand how effective Rockefeller can be in establishing business deals. Boswell had not succeeded in expanding his company's chicken products line in Japan until he decided to join Rockefeller for a two-week trip there.

Boswell came away with an agreement to provide Pizza La, Japan's largest pizza delivery company, with a new line of Italian chicken fingers produced by his company, Pierce Foods.

"It was a very good trip for our company," said Boswell, who lives in Martinsburg.

Pierce Foods, which produces high-quality processed chicken, is based in Moorefield, W.Va., and has sales offices in Winchester, Va.

Last month, after Cecil Underwood's inauguration as governor in Charleston, Rockefeller and other "Project Harvest 1997'' participants flew to Taipei, Taiwan.

The group met with a long list of government organizations and business groups that have influence over foreign trade, such as the Japanese External Trade Organization, Martin said.

Participants covered their own expenses on the trip, Martin said.

Rockefeller has headed other trade trips to Japan, and Asian business groups have also visited here, Martin said.

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