by Hannah Saulters
Sept. 18-20, Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant attended the 37th annual joint meeting of the Southeast U.S./Japan and the Japan – U.S. Southeast Associations, or SEUS-Japan, a conference aimed to build business and government relationships between the region and Japan. William Yates III, president and CEO of Yates Construction, was also in attendance, serving as co-chair of the conference. His counterpart, Ausutoshi Nishida, is chairman of the board of the Toshiba Corporation.
The New Otani Hotel in Tokyo hosted the two-day conference, which rotates on a biennial basis between a host state and Japan. Last year the conference took place in Biloxi, Miss., and as Jay Roberson, president pro tempore of the Birmingham City Council announced via Twitter Sept. 19, the upcoming 38th SEUS Japan conference will take place in Birmingham, Ala. Other member states include Florida, Georgia, Tennessee, North Carolina and South Carolina.
Since 1976, delegations of SEUS-Japan and its Japanese counterpart have been conferring among government officials and business leaders to create stronger relationships between the two regions. Gov. Phil Bryant stated in a press release Sept. 11, “Japan remains Mississippi’s top source of foreign direct investment… These meetings are beneficial to Mississippi as we look at the future of economic development in our state.” Roberson’s tweet confirming the next host city also included the hashtags Toyota and Honda, indicating the close ties the industries have to southern economic development.
Mississippi has both Nissan and Toyota plants. In July of this year, The Huffington Post reported, “Nissan’s Canton, Mississippi, plant was getting $1.33 billion in tax breaks from the state in return for Nissan’s promise to provide Mississippians with good-paying, full-time jobs.” The article also notes, ”Mississippi is paying for a giant chunk of Nissan’s subsidies with the exact amount of money it cut from schools in the last six years,” in violation of the Mississippi Adequate Education Program. These cuts have accumulated over several years, reaching a sum of $1.5 billion since 2010, according to The Jackson Free Press. MAEP stipulates, “Each district is required to provide up to 27% of the base student cost through a local contribution made up of local ad valorem taxes. The state funds the difference between what a local community is able to provide… and the total base student cost,” which is multiplied by the average attendance to determine the MAEP contribution.
But the conference focused on economic growth in the state, and as Yates said of the experience, the meeting “allows us to demonstrate our desire in forging new trade and investment relationships that will be beneficial for both Mississippi and Japan for many years to come.”