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Commentary: Front Royal and Japan: Friends, partners making Warren County stronger

This week, I am looking forward to visiting Front Royal. Nestled in the Shenandoah Valley with rivers and mountains to explore, it reminds me of my home in Japan, where peaks and valleys dot the countryside. It is not just the similar landscapes that connect Front Royal and Japan. They are also linked in economic partnership, and that is what brings me to your beautiful city this week.

I will be in Front Royal to celebrate the opening of a new $40 million manufacturing facility built by Japanese-affiliated Toray Plastics (America), Inc. This new manufacturing plant, which will strengthen the economy of Front Royal and Warren County, is an example of Japan’s commitment to the economic success of Virginia and Virginians.

I am looking forward to meeting some of those Virginians who work at Toray and who will soon be joined by new colleagues coming on board as part of this new expansion. The unique product they are making –  TorayPEF, automotive interior trim foam material – connects Front Royal not just to Japan but all around the world. It is a key ingredient in automobile manufacturing. Nearly every major auto manufacturer around the world uses their TorayPEF, and products from the expanded Front Royal facility will be exported widely, helping to boost the local economy and improve America’s balance of trade.

Not only is the Toray Plastics expansion in Front Royal part of a bigger story of Japanese investment in Virginia, it is part of an even larger Japanese investment wave that is creating jobs and economic opportunity across the United States. Last year, Japanese investment in the United States hit a record of more than $45 billion, which is expected to create 25,000 new U.S. jobs. Japan is now the top international creator of U.S. jobs, and Japanese investments in the United States have directly created more than 860,000 jobs for American workers, including more than 16,500 jobs in Virginia.

And it’s more than just economics that link Front Royal and Warren County to Japan. Both places are also strengthened by people-to-people connections that make the bond between the commonwealth and Japan unique. Students from Virginia high schools and colleges routinely visit Japan through an exchange program that fosters closer ties between our two nations. On the other side of the ledger, Virginia’s excellent colleges and universities are a draw for students from Japan. Overall, Japanese students contribute nearly $5 million annually to Virginia’s economy.

Japanese tourists are also part of the people-to-people ties that bind Virginia and Japan. Drawn to the state’s great natural beauty, tourists from Japan spend almost $500 million every year as they visit the Shenandoah Valley, the Blue Ridge Mountains and the Commonwealth’s many world-class vineyards and wineries.

Japan is proud to be an economic partner and friend to Front Royal, Warren County and all of Virginia. I am proud to be here this week celebrating that friendship with the opening of the Toray Plastics manufacturing facility. This investment in Front Royal and Virginia will help make the bonds of friendship grow even stronger.

Shinsuke J. Sugiyama is Japan’s Ambassador to the United States.

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