Unshaken Saga Hopes to Stir More Business Interest Today
By Brad Frischkorn
Saga Prefecture, located in one of Japan's most southernmost regions on the island of Kyushu, sports the country's lowest exposure to earthquakes.
It may say something about a house party when the host boasts that attendees are less likely to suffer from building collapse than at any other gathering on the block. But the relative stability of Saga's soil is nevertheless part of the state's official pitch to attract more business. Saga recently sent a team of reps with that goal in mind to the 7th International Rechargeable Battery Expo, held March 2-4 at the Tokyo Big Sight venue in Daiba.
Saga was the only prefecture among Japan's 47 territories to send such a delegation to the event, which ran concurrently with eight other exhibitions during World Smart Energy Week 2016. The sprawling summit included the 1st International Biomass Expo and the 9th International Photovoltaic Power Generation Expo, and was largest combined event of its kind in the nation, attracting over 1,400 exhibitors and 63,000 visitors in all, according to coordinator Reed Exhibitions Japan.
The effusive Tatsuhide Soejima headed the Saga delegation, handing out free bath salts and local delicacies to interested passers-by. "The earthquake issue front and center among concerns when companies consider setting up shop in any region in Japan," he says. "In Saga, we have no active volcanoes and are safe from major active fault lines, so companies needn't worry about the risk of structural damage caused by the shifting earth."
To be specific, Saga features the lowest frequency to quakes of seismic intensity of 1.0 or more in the nation, and has a relatively good rating in terms of projected damage due to flooding. Such facts are hard to overstate around Japan's highly volcanic archipelago, which experiences an average of over 1,500 quakes per year. In March 2011, a massive offshore tremor triggered a tsunami that wiped out whole villages in Japan's northeast region, and triggered a nuclear mess that will take decades to clean up. Some 25,000 Japanese lost their lives in the catastrophe.
Saga Prefecture is not alone among Japan's rural communities in that it suffers from the flight of young people to larger and more dynamic metropolitan areas such as Tokyo. Like all of Japan, a low birthrate and long average lifespan means its citizens are aging rapidly. The population totals just 860,000, one of the sparsest in the country.
Still, Saga's government believes these and other realities can be spun into positives that could attract more direct investment, including from abroad. Modern highways allow for convenient traffic access from central Saga to major ports such as Nagasaki (70km), while Saga International Airport links directly to Tokyo, Shanghai and Seoul (all within 90 minutes). The 'saga' of Saga includes a rich history of international exchange, including the import of ceramic technology from China and Korea 400 years ago.
Importantly, land prices in Saga City center are about 1/150 that of Tokyo. Office rental rates are half that of the nation's capital, while average wages are 40% lower. The state offers the highest level of subsidy systems in Japan, generous deferred tax schemes, and boasts four of the "most livable" cities ranked recently in the Kyushu Top 20.
"Solar energy companies show a lot of interest in Saga due to cheap land prices, but we'd like to see more electronics firms, IT firms, medical device makers, and high-end chemical manufacturers set up the prefecture," says Mr. Soejima, noting that turnover rates are very low at regional entities. "There aren't any foreign companies operating in Saga; that's something we'd especially like to remedy."
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