By JAY ROCKEFELLER
WASHINGTON — Success often starts small, but West Virginia’s success in landing new investments by Japanese companies started big – with Wheeling Nisshin in 1986, NGK Sparkplugs in 1995, and then Toyota’s $400 million automotive facility in 1996.
When I first met with Toyota officials a decade earlier, my hope was that starting those conversations would lead to even more growth for our state. And thanks in no small part to our talented workforce, the good news only continues.
There are now 21 Japanese companies in West Virginia and one of the newest is set to unveil a $100 million investment at the end of this month. Kureha Corporation of Tokyo, a leading global supplier of specialty chemicals and plastics, has built a facility for the production and sale of polyglycolic acid, a high-performance polymer used in products like soft drink bottles.
Eight years ago, Kureha first came to West Virginia following a trade mission hosted by the Discover the REAL West Virginia Foundation. Two year later, then-Governor Manchin and I met with company officials at their headquarters in Japan and urged the company’s Vice President at the time to visit our state and see what we had to offer – and he did so, that very same year.
I knew that Kureha was an ideal fit for our state. They have an innovative product, and we have a workforce ready to produce it. They are a good corporate citizen that values the communities in which they operate, and we have an unrivaled community spirit. They have goals of expanding globally, and we have hopes of making our economy stronger than ever before.
At full production, Kureha will create up to 50 new, well-paying jobs at this facility. In the midst of a recovering economy, this means that more West Virginians are moving up and forward. It means that a local economy is even stronger, a community is a bit busier, and families can pay their bills. And while we loudly applaud this news, we also know we need to do more – and there are many opportunities across our state if we know how to take advantage of them.
Right now, Congress is considering a new jobs bill that I believe could hold great potential for job creation and economic growth in West Virginia. White House estimates show that the bill would put 25,000 long-term jobless West Virginians back to work through unemployment insurance reform; cut the payroll tax for families and 30,000 West Virginia businesses; create at least 3,100 jobs through transportation infrastructure investments and 2,100 through school construction; and invest in our community colleges so they can meet demands for a high-tech workforce.
At the same time, following a compromise that allowed us to reduce spending cuts by nearly $1 trillion over the next 10 years, a bipartisan committee has begun meeting to identify an additional $1.5 trillion in deficit reduction. We must reign in spending – and we are. But we also have to make the right kind of investments to get our economy not just back on track, but on the fast track to a stronger tomorrow. We can’t simply cut everything, as some would have us do.
Instead, we need to continue investing in our future by helping unemployed people find jobs and creating new opportunities. West Virginia workers don’t turn down new opportunities; they embrace and make the most of them. Just look at Toyota, which is marking its 15th anniversary in West Virginia this year – 15 years anchored by record-setting production, more than 1,100 current jobs, and a total investment in excess of $1 billion.
I have every assurance that companies like Toyota and Kureha saw something in West Virginia that they simply couldn’t ignore, and it’s the same thing that keeps me motivated every day. I’ve said it before and I’ll always say it: When given the chance, West Virginians outwork and outshine. And, whether it’s assembling automotive engines or producing a multifunctional plastic, I’m thankful for every chance we get.
Rockefeller, a Democrat, is West Virginia’s senior senator in the United States Senate.