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Out & About in Cleveland

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Why Japan Still Matters at the City Club

On Friday, December 5th, we went to the City Club of Greater Cleveland for a program titled "Why Japan Still Matters" where the guest speaker was Dr. Kazuyuki Katayama who is the Consulate-General of Japan based in Detroit. Dr. Katayama was introduced by Mr. Dan Walsh of Huntington Bank who told us that Dr. Katayama was a good friend of his who once came to his aid when he was stuck in a storm in Detroit. Mr. Walsh reviewed for us the facts that Japan was the largest foreign investor in Ohio and that there are 425 Japanese-affiliated companies here which have created 67,000 jobs.

Dr. Katayama begin his presentation by telling us that "ohio" means "good morning" in the Japanese language. He then went on to talk about the relationship of the United States and Japan and how both sides have benefited from it tremendously by way of security, economic issues and cultural exchanges. This is because both parties have established a "mutual trust" and share the same values in terms of democracy, human rights, free trade and peace.

These values are not shared by China, however, but Dr. Katayama realistically stated that Japan and China are neighbors, no getting around it, and need to keep trying to work together.

In terms of Northeast Ohio, itself, Dr. Katayama told us that there are 89 Japanese-affiliated factories in this region and they are quite diverse because they include steel, robotics, food, auto, and medical services. Out of the 13,000 Japanese nationals living in Ohio, 1,200 live here in Northeast Ohio. He also told us something that dismayed us which was that Cleveland, which has many sister cities in other countries, has no sister city in Japan!

During the Q and A, we asked Dr. Katayama about immigration. he replied that the United States is a country of immigrants and he admired us for that. Japan, however, is a more homogeneous society and could not be like the United States in this regard. He readily acknowledged that Japan is experiencing problems because its birth rate is down, the population is declining and rapidly aging. He indicated that he, himself, would like to see Japan adopt a more active immigration policy because "diversity could stimulate new ideas" but he seemed to doubt if enough people in Japan shared this viewpoint.

Visiting the City Club on this day were students from Shaker Heights High School. Their teacher/chaperone was Mr. Andrew Glasier who told us to say hello to Ms. Margaret W. Wong for him. He met Ms. Wong when she spoke at the school and has seen her on several other occasions.

We sat with Mr. Jim Mauro, Area Vice President for Integrated Medical Services who had never been to the City Club before and really liked it.

We also got to finally visit with Mr. Donn R. Nottage, who became the official City Club Photographer in January, 2014 after working there since the 1980's. We really admire Mr. Nottage's skill of moving through the aisles unobtrusively snapping photos while the speaker is talking without being a distraction.

Our other event for Friday was the 2014 Entrepreneur of the Year Gala hosted by the Northeast Ohio Hispanic Chamber of Commerce and the Hispanic Business Center which took place at LaCentre Conference and Banquet Facility in Westlake.

While we were there, we stopped to visit with a man standing at a table. It turned out that that man was Mr. Carlos Vergara, who along with his son Mr. Juan Vergara, was the founder of the Barroco Grill on Madison Avenue in Lakewood which would be receiving the "Ground Breaking Business Award" that evening. After we told Mr. Vergara that we worked for Margaret W. Wong and Associates, his eyes lit up and he told us that she assisted his family with the immigration process when they came to the United States from Columbia in 1999. Mr. Vergara said that he asked his friend who the best immigration lawyer in this area way and his friend said that it was Ms. Margaret W. Wong! Mr. Vergara said that Ms. Wong more than lived up to her reputation. He and his family became United States citizens in 2011 which was the same year the Barroco Grill was founded.

The business that received the "Community Pillar Award" was Tortilleria La Bamba which produces delicious tortillas. One of the co-owners is Ms. Leticia Ortiz who immigrated to the United States from Monterrey, Mexico. The other co-owners responsible for the great success of this business are Ms. Ortiz' husband, Mr. Jose Andrade, and Mr. Ricardo Redonda and Ms. Enedina Ortiz.

We met several people there who know Ms. Margaret W. Wong including Mr. Ben Holbert who is the Business Outreach Coordinator with the Northeast Ohio Regional Sewer District. Mr. Holbert used to be a reporter who once interviewed Ms. Wong and has seen her several times since then, the last time being when Ms. Wong spoke at Landerhaven fairly recently.

And, of course, we saw a lot of people there that we knew like the Reverend Omar Medina, Dr. Maria Pujana, Mr. Luis Cartagena of the CMBDA Center, and Mr. Lou Acosta of the North Coast Minority Medina.

We complimented Ms. Jenice Contreras, Executive Director, Mr. Jason Estremera, Director of Business Services, and Mr. Jose A. Vasquez, Board Chair of the Hispanic Business Center as well as Ms. Claudia Yvette De Leon, Mistress of Ceremonies, on how well the evening was going.

Special Remarks were made by Mr. Armond Budish, Cuyahoga County Executive-Elect who pledged to make economic development a priority and renewed his commitment to minority-owned businesses.

Another person who knew Ms. Wong was Mr. Richard K. Levitz, of R.K. Levitz, LLC. He told us that he tried to refer Ms. Wong to a friend of his who knew someone who had an immigration problem but this person already had an attorney. But, if this doesn't work out, Ms. Wong still might get a call from him.

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