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Impact of disasters felt here
Several firms have ties to reeling Japan
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Forsyth County News


The natural disasters in Japan may seem a world away, but they are hitting close to home for many in Forsyth and surrounding counties.

James McCoy, president of the Cumming-Forsyth County Chamber of Commerce, said at least three local firms have ties to the Asian nation: Hoover Precision Products, Convergent Media Systems and CO2 Air Inc.

Brian Jennings, president of Hoover Precision Products, which manufactures precision and semi-precision balls for various industries, said the facility is owned by a Japanese company called Tsubakin Nakashima.

McCoy said the other two are not Japanese-owned, but have strong ties to the island nation through suppliers.

Jennings said Tsubakin is located in Nara, on the southern side of Japan, far away from the area that was hardest hit by the earthquake and tsumami.

"They really were not impacted whatsoever," said Jennings, although he noted some of the company's suppliers in other parts of the country were affected.

"Some of them were in areas that had six hours on and six hours off of electricity, so they couldn't work," he said.

"But everything's been regulated out now and everyone [went] back to work [Tuesday.] So we haven't had any major problems."

The Cumming facility has two employees from Japan, but he said their families are safe and unharmed by the disaster.

"All their families live in Osaka and Nara," he said.

While the company hasn't seen many effects from the disaster, Jennings said officials are closely monitoring the situation with Japan's nuclear reactors, which are being cooled in hopes of preventing meltdowns.

"We're all really concerned about that because that would be something that would effect the entire nation," Jennings said.

He said the company does have plans to make a donation for disaster relief, likely through the Red Cross.

Representatives with Convergent and CO2 Air could not be reached for comment.

Across Lake Lanier from Forsyth, there are five Japanese businesses in Hall County.

Tim Evans, vice president of development for the Greater Hall Chamber of Commerce said, like Hoover Precision Products, those companies are all based south of the area hardest hit.

"I think while all our companies in Hall County haven't necessarily been directly affected, all of them felt the earthquake," he said. "Many are indirectly affected by the fallout from the earthquake and tsunami."

Yoshi Domoto, executive director of the Japan America Society of Georgia, said Kubota -- which has its North American headquarters in Gainesville -- has started relief efforts in Sendai.

"A lot of suppliers are located in the Sendai area, so they're definitely feeling the aftermath," he said. "They are the largest producers of water pumps in Japan so they're doing a lot of relief efforts.

"They're producing a whole lot of their supplies and sending them out to the folks who need them most, who need clean water in the Sendai and Miyagi Prefecture."

Attempts to reach Kubota officials were unsuccessful.

Meanwhile, the disaster isn't expected to have an immediate impact on Japanese automakers in America, said Butch Miller, general manager of Milton Martin Honda.

"As far as our day-to-day operations are concerned, I don't expect there to be any disruptions in inventory or management," Miller said. "Even though Honda is still considered to be a 'foreign car,' it's really manufactured and managed almost entirely in the United States."

Some Japanese automakers are curtailing manufacturing in America out of concern that there will be a shortage of parts coming out of Japan.

Emi Maekawa, a student at Gainesville State College who moved to Georgia from Japan four years ago, has been trying her best to stay in touch with her friends and family in Tokyo over the last week.

She said though Sendai suffered the most devastation, Tokyo experienced damage from earthquakes.

"Everyone is pretty much in Tokyo in the central area, so they're OK. But some of them don't have phones and they don't have the train fixed yet, so most of them are stuck at home and can't work. It's horrible," Maekawa said.

"Most of my friends go to school and they live on their own, so they have to make money to survive, but they can't work, so it's sad. There's no gas so they can't even drive."

Maekawa said it's hard to be so far away from the situation.

"At a time like this I feel bad I'm in the states and all my family is over there," Maekawa said. "But at least everybody is fine."

Domoto said his organization is spearheading several efforts to collect donations and help Japanese people in Georgia contact their friends and relatives in Japan.

"We are guaranteeing that 100 percent of the proceeds we collect will go to the victims directly," Domoto said. "We've identified several foundations in Japan that will be collecting funds that will go directly to the victims.

"We're also thinking of possibly donating contributions to the city of Sendai and the Prefecture of Miyagi directly once they're ready to start accepting donations for the rebuilding effort."

Right now, it is difficult to get to the Sendai area to bring supplies for relief efforts.

"We're working with Japanese logistics companies in the states ... and we're trying to find the best ways we can send supplies over to Japan," Domoto said.

Evans said the bond between Georgia and Japan has deep roots.

"Georgia really began its relationship with Japan back in the early '60s. The very first large Japanese company to locate in the Southeast United States was in Georgia: YKK.

"YKK located a zipper manufacturing operation in Macon that still operates today," Evans said. "There's just a long progression of Japanese companies."

Domoto believes Georgians will contribute greatly to relief efforts in Japan.

"Japan and Georgia have a really close relationship both economically and culturally. It's really grown into a really tight partnership," Domoto said. "It's such a tragic incident, but it's good to see a lot of folks here in

Georgia are reaching out and bringing hope to the people in Japan."

Melissa Weinman of the FCN regional staff contributed to this report.