Osaka: A City in Transition

Our second city to visit in Japan is Osaka. We find the city and the meetings less formal than in Tokyo. From the briefings that we receive from various business organizations in Osaka, we learn that it is a city in transition.  It is rebuilding its economic base around renewable energy products and life sciences, more specifically pharmaceuticals and medical devices. We learn of a very aggressive plan to increase the innovation and market share of these two sectors. We also learn of an infrastructure rebuilding plan around the hotel where we are staying to support two separate pillars, first the creation of new local companies and second, to complement this with foreign investment and the attraction of strategic foreign companies. Tokyo was a discussion around large multinationals and their plans. Osaka is about change and entrepreneurship.

I continue my education on the role that Canada’s food processing plays on the world stage. In Tokyo, I had learned that one large brewery imports a significant amount of its barley and hops from Saskatchewan. Furthermore, it takes advantage of the research capabilities in Saskatoon, to develop agricultural products that enhance the marketability of their beer. In Osaka, the innovative role that Canada plays in agricultural biotechnology was reinforced. We are not only the bread basket to the world, but our scientists are building a better bread basket.

While our members were doing their business to business meetings, I was approached by companies. Much like in our recent trip to Europe, they were interested in Canada’s significant infrastructure development requirements ($800 billion in projects) over the next decade, and more specifically the potential for public private partnership opportunities.  What surprised me was their depth of knowledge. They had a broad understanding of the potential and wanted more detail, both of the projects and how they could partner to participate. They had done their homework and were interested in detail on how best to invest.

I personally went on the information and communications technology tour. We first visited a company supplying automated equipment to manufacturers and product suppliers. The sophistication of the machinery and its speed were impressive. And, they were continually talking to their customers and improving their products to respond to individual needs.

Our second visit was to an electronics manufacturer. The manufacturer had a long history and its products have adapted over the decades. They had on display, their first black and white television. Several of our members, significantly younger than me, could not believe its size and the fact that it used tubes. Unfortunately, I had to let them know that my parents had one of the original black and white TV’s in the neighbourhood, and that I had watched the first appearance of Elvis Presley on the Ed Sullivan show on it. Their only comment: Elvis Presley, Ed Sullivan? One thing we did agree on was how far electronics has come in the past sixty years.

Again, Canada’s fundamentals gave us excellent talking points. Japan believes in free trade and is entering into bilateral trade and investment agreements with its largest partners. Canada has in place its agreement with its North American neighbours, the US and Mexico, and has reached agreement in principle on the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement with the European Union.  That gives investors in Canada access to just under one billion consumers and a GDP of over $36 trillion. In negotiation are bilateral agreements with Japan and South Korea and the multilateral Trans Pacific Partnership.

Our visit to Toyota City was also informative. We say flexible manufacturing in action at a level that was not expected. We also saw the commitment to balance between man and machine to produce the best product for the consumer.

Michael Darch is the founding president of Consider Canada City Alliance.