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Shelbyville delegation recently returned from Japan

Shelbyville Mayor Tom DeBaun, fourth from left, recently led a delegation to Japan to celebrate the city’s 30-year sister-city relationship with Shizuoka City and Kambara. While in Japan, city officials also visited with parent companies of Japanese industries located in Shelby County. One of those visits was to Nippon Steel & Sumitomo Metal Corporation in Tokyo.

By JEFF BROWN - jbrown@shelbynews.com

One requirement to be mayor of Shelbyville should be having a passport. 

One of the myriad of duties that fall under the mayor’s responsibility is maintaining strong relationships with the Japanese companies based in Shelby County. And that includes trips to Japan.

Current Shelbyville Mayor Tom DeBaun and a delegation 19 strong recently returned from Japan, where they visited with corporations with Shelby County ties and celebrated the 30-year sister city relationship with Kambara and Shizuoka City.

“The trip was different this year because of the 30th anniversary,” said DeBaun. “There was a lot of time spent on the celebration and formalizing resolutions.”

A Japanese delegation visited Shelbyville in late October where the 30-year relationship was celebrated locally at Indiana Grand Racing and Casino.

Shelbyville and Kambara, Japan, became sister cities on Nov. 3, 1989. On March 31, 2006, Kambara was annexed by Shizuoka City, who has two other American sister cities (Omaha, Nebraska and Stockton, California).

Shelby County now has 14 Japanese companies employing 2,500 people. 

The city and county relationships with the local companies are strong but that can be enhanced with visits to Japan.

“We had four pretty intensive days meeting with parent companies over there,” explained DeBaun. “We met with Press Kyogo, Nippon Steel, Nippon Sheet Glass, Ryobi, Yushiro Chemical and KN Platech’s two parent companies. We spent a lot of time talking with those groups.”

Those discussions included “tariffs, workforce and a few other topics,” Shelby County Development Corporation Executive Director Brian Asher told the Board of Commissioners at Monday morning’s meeting.

The dialogue is also helpful in bringing future companies to Shelby County.

“We talk about future business and pledge to help broker any meetings we can with the connections we have,” said DeBaun.

New this year was seeing representatives from Honda, who has an automotive plant in nearby Greensburg, in meetings.

“We saw more representation from Honda than we’ve seen in the past,” said DeBaun. “We met with executives from Honda that we had had no relationship with in the past. 

“When Kimura had their (Shelbyville) ribbon cutting, there was a representative from Honda there. When we were in Shizuoka City, there were representatives from Honda there. So now they are starting to get engaged into our International Relations Committee.”

The Shelbyville delegation enjoyed celebrations in both Shizuoka City, comparable in size to Indianapolis, and Kambara, closer to Shelbyville in population.

“We deal with the Shizuoka City group for several days and then we deal with the Kambara group for two days,” said DeBaun. “Our home stays are typically always in Kambara because that is where the deeper relationships are on the personal side.”

“The best way to put it, Shizuoka is very formal and Kambara is very informal... laid back,” said Rob Nolley, who has lived in Japan and led several student trips to the country. He was part of the delegation this year. “It’s like going to a family reunion.”

The days are long, typically 12 hours of meetings and visitation. That leaves little time for exploring.

“They would pick us up at about 8:30 a.m. and we are on the go constantly until about 8:30 p.m.,” said DeBaun. Typically we are in a bus or taking trains. Usually the off time is not until after 8:30 p.m. where we would go out as a group.”

Despite all the excursions overseas, DeBaun admits the travel is the toughest part of the trip.

“The travel days are 20- to 30-hour days. It’s 121/2 hours there and 101/2 hours back, plus you’ve got layovers and customs and trains,” said DeBaun. “They are every bit of 24-hour plus days of travel. It took me nine days to get normal once I got home.”