Source: Lake Geneva Regional News

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Kikkoman CEO speaker at WCEDA luncheon
Foul weather in Madison cancels governorís visit

by Chris Schultz

November 24, 2011

LAKE GENEVA — Inclement weather in the Madison area kept Gov. Scott Walker from showing up for the Walworth County Economic Development Alliance's annual meeting and luncheon at the Grand Geneva Nov. 9.

It would have been Walker's first official visit to his home county since being elected governor.

However, the meeting went on without gubernatorial oversight.

More than 200 WCEDA members and guests showed up to hear keynote speaker Kazuo Shimizu, president and CEO of Kikkoman Foods.

Earlier in the week, WCEDA pulled together enough support on the Walworth County Board to retain successfully a $50,000 annual contribution from the county budget, after a challenge by several supervisors.

Shimizu is no stranger to Wisconsin. He is a graduate of the University of Wisconsin-Madison and an avid Badger football fan.

The company came to Walworth County in 1972, before there was a WCEDA to lure it here.

Instead, Shimizu said, the company was drawn to the town of Walworth in Walworth County because of its central location in the United States, its proximity to natural resources, such as wheat and soy; it's high-quality workforce and by its abundant supply of clean groundwater.

The Kikkoman food plant in Walworth is 640,000 square feet and employs 162 people, most of them local.

It's Kikkoman's policy to operate as a local company, Shimizu said. Half of the plant's executive board is local and half is Japanese.

Japanese employees at the plant are required to become part of the community.

Management practices are on the American, rather than Japanese model. And the company uses local suppliers as much as possible, Shimizu said.

In the 1970s, annual output of the plant was about 2 million gallons a year, Shimizu said.

By 2010, the plant was putting out 336 million gallons annually, he added.

The company made a $100 million expansion of the plant in 2003 that added 40 jobs. The property is now a $300 million investment on 195 acres.

Kikkoman believes in being giving back to its host community.

"To be a good corporate citizen is very important," Shimizu said.

Five acres were donate recently to the town of Walworth for a new town hall.

And, just last week, Kikkoman donated $10,000 to Lakeland School.

The generosity flows both ways.

Shimizu thanked the Walworth County business community its contributions to help those left homeless by the tsunami, which hit the northwestern coast of Japan in March this year.

Kikkoman was also one of the local businesses that helped establish WCEDA 10 years ago, to help the county connect with businesses and encourage business development in the county.

The company has a long legacy.

The predecessor company that became Kikkoman was founded in Noda, Japan in the mid-1600s.

"We are a little older than the United States," Shimizu said.

The annual meeting was also a time for WCEDA to reward county companies and individuals for their efforts at maintaining a high quality workforce and products.

n The Walworth County Workforce Investment Award went to Mercy Walworth Hospital and medical Center.

The award was presented by Charles Colman of the Walworth County Workforce Development Board.

"I personally think we do way too little workforce development in the U.S.," Colman said.

The award was given to Mercy because of the company's training and retraining of its employees and use of community resources, Colman said.

Mercy's recent expansion of its Walworth County medical center will result in 90 new jobs and nine new physicians.

Average compensation at the new hospital and medical center will be about $50,000.

Mercy also works with Gateway Technical College and local high schools to help train students interested in careers in medicine and health care.

n Bruce Kepner, economic development specialist at Alliant Energy and president of WCEDA, presented the Walworth County Capital Investment Award to Birds Eye Foods and its parent company, Pinnacle of New Jersey.

The company is adding 127 jobs to its Darien frozen foods plant and is building a 50,000 square foot expansion as part of a $40 million investment.

The company also received a $1.3 million forgivable loan from the state of Wisconsin.

n Dr. Robert Spitzer received the Lifetime Achievement Award. Spitzer is the former president of MSOE and is currently president emeritus.

He coordinated the Food for Peace Program during President Gerald Ford's administration and is a member of the Kikkoman board of directors.

Spitzer appeared near tears as he said the award came as a surprise.

He said recent decades have given Walworth County progress and opportunity.

He said he was proud Kikkoman selected Walworth County as the site for its first production facility in the U.S.

"Japan needs the U.S. and the U.S. needs Japan," he said.

Spitzer said those who donate their time get much more back.

"We live to serve, but when we serve, we live even more," he said.

"If we save this world, it will be from the hearts and souls of the men and women we have here."