Michigans recovery path threatened by Japanese disaster

March 21, 2011
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The economic impact of Japan’s all-encompassing battle against the brutality of earthquakes, a tsunami and radiation exposure is widespread, and Michigan businesses will be among the first to defend against those aftershocks. Japan is Michigan’s largest foreign investor, much of it in automotive but also ranging from agriculture to technology. The intellectual property losses are incalculable.

Impacts being measured by U.S. financial experts include calculations in regard to the world’s third largest economy, and while the impact is expected to be immense, Michigan, once again, is likely to be one of the first and hardest hit given its position in recessionary recovery. While private businesses are fully involved in long-range planning as a result of the disaster, the same ripple effect will be felt in public sector planning.

The dire consequences yet to unfold made even more pathetic the great mockery of the lobbyist-lead protests in Lansing last week, kept alive by robot broadcasters oblivious to news.

The Wall Street Journal reported a $300 billion loss in U.S. stock value alone last week, and noted that at least one Toyota plant in Kentucky was cutting overtime and production in anticipation of interruptions in the supply chain.

Those supply-chain impacts most notably worry Grand Rapids Spring & Stamping Chairman Jim Zawacki (see story on page 1). West Michigan businesses have for decades worked shoulder-to-shoulder with their Japanese brethren. In the late 1980s, the Japanese outranked every other country for the number of businesses owned here, as reported in Business Journal top-ranked lists and survey information of the time. (Germany now leads that list of foreign-owned businesses.) A number of West Michigan business owners and the Right Place Inc. helped establish the Japanese School still operating near Battle Creek for the children of Japanese executives.

The Right Place was among the first economic development teams to establish a presence in Japan, and the country has underpinned Amway’s growth in the Asian market. Grand Rapids was among the first cities to establish a sister city relationship with Japan, and it was, in fact, the first of five such relationships worldwide.

Zawacki and Amway leaders have already begun to send what aide is known to be needed, including donations for earthquake and tsunami victims. They are the first of what will likely be tremendous beneficence from this area, long holding record for charitable giving in this country. But this time, hundreds of Grand Rapidians have relationships with and know fully those caught in this epic disaster.

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