Gov. Bruce Rauner at press discussion at Rend Lake roundtable

Gov. Bruce Rauner and Japan's Consul-General Naoki Ito answers questions Wednesday after a roundtable luncheon at Rend Lake College in Ina.

INA — Gov. Bruce Rauner joined a discussion at Rend Lake College on Wednesday morning, trying to pitch Southern Illinois as an investment interest to Japan.

The governor was there with Japan's Consul-General Naoki Ito at the workforce and education roundtable, attended by the chancellor of Southern Illinois University and president of Rend Lake College. They all addressed the gathering during the luncheon at the school's student center.

Ito said he was looking for “a good investment climate” to help him decide to encourage more Japanese-owned business to build in Southern Illinois.

“So I really wanted to look at what’s taking place in Southern Illinois with my own eyes,” he said. “.I’m really impressed with the way the companies, the existing companies here, [are] enjoying very, very good working environment. … I see a very high potential here.…"

Of Midwestern states, Illinois has the highest percentage of Japanese businesses — 45 percent, or 630 companies, according to a news release from Japan's Chicago Consul General website.

In 2016, Japan had 1,389 businesses that provided 139,310 jobs in the Midwest.

"From a long-term perspective, the Midwest remains particularly attractive to Japanese direct investment due to its central location, top quality workforce, strong transportation network, and favorable business environment," according to the report on the Consul General website. "In return, Japanese business facilities provide jobs in both urban and rural areas, source components from U.S. companies, and are full members of their communities."

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Gov. Rauner said he traveled to Japan and China and the U.S. East and West coasts and has a trip planned to Europe, all with the intent of trying to entice businesses to move into Illinois.

He said East and West coast businesses had already moved into Southern Illinois, which he said had less business regulations than does Illinois.

“They have higher tax burden,” Rauner said of those states. “We’ve got a huge opportunity for more growth. . . . If we could get the regulatory burden off of our businesses, so our regulations are very competitive, and if we can bring our tax burden down, especially our property taxes, we will boom.”

After the luncheon, the governor and Ito spoke briefly with the media, addressing questions about possible future business investments to concern about North Korea's missile tests — with the governor calling the country and its dictator "a threat to the world" — to sexual harassment to the status of a prisoner re-entry program announced in October 2016.

"I'm personally committed to making sure that gets open," the governor said about the Re-Entry Life Skills Facility in Murphysboro. "The bureaucracy is moving too slow. …. It's a very important economic engine to this part of the state. It's also essential to keep our communities safer."

After the brief question-and-answer session, the governor traveled on to Marion, where he visited the AISIN Group, an automobile parts supplier. There, he thanked company representatives for hosting him in a visit to its Aichi, Japan, headquarters during his Asia jobs visit there in September.

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Stephanie Esters is a reporter covering Jackson and Union counties.

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