More than 20 years ago Japan-based businesses found their way to Tualatin, and they're still here
Jay Larsen tends to shrug off some of the details in his work environment. Sure he knows that most people don't have a Samurai warrior suit sitting in the corner of their conference rooms. He says the feng shui layout of his office building is more for convenience than tradition.
And the fact that once a week at 4 p.m. his company's big shots sit in front of a camera for a teleconference with company officials in Hiroshima, Japan, who are just starting their day, isn't a big deal to Larsen.
With the world operating on a global economy, Larsen, the marketing manager for Shindaiwa Inc. in Tualatin, just sees his office operating business as usual.
Most of the largest industrial facilities in Tualatin are owned by or associated with Japan-based companies. From Shindaiwa and Fujimi to KAI USA and Kambara USA Inc., Japanese businesses started off small in Tualatin, said Tualatin Community Development Director Doug Rux. Today, the businesses are much bigger.
The city began actively looking for Japanese companies in the '80s when city and state officials started to see the advantages of having diversified economies. Rux said it was a lot easier to recruit Japanese companies 15 years ago than it is today. While companies may look at Tualatin for its available industrial land and its skilled workforce, competition for businesses today is brutal and it's global. A company interested in Tualatin may also be looking for cheaper water rates and cheaper land prices at three or four other sites across the globe.
But according to Rux, 80 percent of the job growth expected to be seen in this area will come from existing companies expanding.
Shindaiwa Inc. has operated in Tualatin since 1981. It is the hand-held products division for the Japan-based company Shindaiwa Corp. The company has two buildings in Tualatin - a corporate office and a 65,000-square-foot warehouse on Herman Road where three assembly lines put together commercial grade, powered, outdoor lawn equipment like trimmers, edgers, hedge trimmers and brush cutters. The parts are produced in Japan and sent in bulk to the Tualatin warehouse where the products are assembled. Products assembled in Tualatin are then shipped to distributors worldwide.
The Tualatin assembly lines can assemble 600 products in a 450-minute shift - basically assembling a single product every 45 seconds, bragged assembly manager Jim Parish. A few years ago a consultant gave a brief presentation to the assembly warehouse on the Japanese concept of 'kaizen.'
Made famous by its use in Toyota Production Systems, 'kaizen' is a strategy where you identify something that's not working in a workplace setting and find a way to improve it. For the Shindaiwa warehouse it meant dividing up responsibilities for unpacking parts, assembling multiple pieces at once and getting one person to do multiple jobs to help speed up the process. When Parish first started with Shindaiwa 10 years ago, a good day was seeing 220 units assembled a day. Today, it's almost triple that.
Larsen said Shindaiwa Inc. has no immediate plans for expansion, but with a loyal following of landscape professionals, the red dots on a worldwide map designating shipping points continues to multiply. Currently the company has more than 60 distributors across the globe.
On Teton Avenue, KAI USA Ltd. will be adding 6,500 square feet for corporate and office space to its 54,466-square-foot building. This is the company's second expansion, according to Jeff Goddard, director of sales and marketing. KAI is an umbrella corporation, and the Tualatin facility is home to Kershaw Knives, Shun and Zero Tolerance Knives.
Also on Teton Avenue is Kambara USA which manufactures handcrafted photo albums, mats and folios.
On Leveton Drive is Fujimi Corp., a company specializing in micro particle production and that now, according to its Web site controls 80 percent of the global market for silicon wafer lapping powders.
Also on Leveton Drive is JAE Oregon Inc., a manufacturer of electrical connectors, whose parent company is Japan Aviation Electronics Ltd. located in Tokyo, Japan.
Aside from investing time in getting Japanese companies to locate to Tualatin, the city has also invested time and effort to keep them here. Since 1989, Rux said the city of Tualatin has had a strong relationship with the Japan-American Society of Oregon. Just a couple years ago, Rux was asked to serve on the JASO board of directors. Today, the Tualatin Development Commission pays a $300 annual membership fee to JASO.
Rux said the organization is a good avenue to open up dialogue between Japanese-businesses and local groups. And the 101-year-old society has provided Japanese businessmen and women with a connection to home.
Rux has learned a few Japanese customs he uses regularly in talks with local Japan-based business representatives. The presentation of a simple business card comes with its own ritual. Rux holds his card from the bottom and bows his head in acknowledgement when greeting a new Japanese businessman. Then Rux hands his business card over first.
'It's all very polite and very nice,' he said.