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Kadena town’s challenge: IT or die

By: Takeshi Shimabukuro

Date Posted: 2001-11-08

Kadena Town is facing a challenge: The town officials want to change the image of Kadena from the place that is the host for the Kadena Air Base to that of a home for modern high tech businesses able to attract young people to live and work within the town.

The problem is space. Only 17 % of Kadena Town’s free space is available for city planners to utilize. The Kadena Air Base covers the rest 83 % of the town area. That 17 percent houses 4,610 houses, accommodating 13,800 people. The K.A.B. also spreads over areas in Okinawa City, and Chatan Town. On top of that, residents in areas near to the base complain about daily jet engine noise.

Under this situation, there is precariously little chance for the town’s population to grow and is has, in fact, been at the same level or even decreased for more than thirty years. When compared to the dynamic growth of neighboring Yomitan Village or Chatan Town, Kadena’s development is rather anemic as its population of 14,000 people is almost the same as in the 60s. Kadena is having a hard time to attract people. Planners would like to increase the population, but cannot help but falling behind other municipalities in the Chubu Area (includes Kadena, Okinawa City, Chatan Town, Gushikawa City). Young people constantly complain about lack of facilities for their leisure time in Kadena, and usually go out to Chatan, Yomitan, or Okinawa City, the neighboring towns with lively shops and busy streets.

One of the most urgent problems facing Kadena Town officials is the high unemployment rate among its young people. Kadena’s unemployment ratio has always been much higher than the average in Okinawa that is the worst in the nation, currently at all time record of 9.2 %. According to national statistics from 1995, Kadena Town’d unemployment rate was 14.3%, much higher than Chatan’s 11.9%. Yomitan’s 11.6%.

One of the most urgent problems facing Kadena Town is the lack of employment opportunities for young people.

Now Kadena Town planners are betting on a new industry to change their fortunes. IT industry does not need spacious land. Small offices and effective communication lines are all that is needed. The town started its Multimedia Plan of Kadena Town already in 1998. In the first phase, Kadena managed to attract several call centers to open a shop in town. The first to open shop was the Japanese electronics giant NEC that employs 55 people.

Another key factor is education. IT businesses attract young engineers and specialists who are familiar with computers and Internet and who can speak English in order to communicate in the field. With this in mind, Town Mayor Tokujitsu Miyagi established the English School of Kadena Town where students can learn English and computer skills. His main objective is to improve the level of English fluency among the town’s younger generation. “The objective of this school is to cultivate each student’s interest in English and computers,” Miyagi says. The curriculum at the school finishes with a two-week hands-on job training in the Computer, Residential Registration, and Magazine offices on KAB. “Almost all students come back with much stronger self-confidence, and have a new dream of working in English speaking environment,” Miyagi says. For the same reason, Katsuo Iha, the town superintendent of education, introduced the English classes into public kindergartens, which is rare in Okinawa.

At the mouth of Hija River, there is a place called “Iyumi-banta.” It is also the place where the town’s new “Multimedia Center” is under construction. Located at the waterfront and surrounded by greenery the location is extremely attractive, and the town has high hopes that it will help the town to change its image.

Kadena Town does not rely on image only to attract new businesses. It offers several incentives, including providing ¥100,000 per employee subsidy to companies that establish a new office in the town. Those new companies that rent space from private sources will get half of their rent paid by the town for a certain period of time. The town helps companies to get loans from public financial organizations, and in some cases the town will assist with interest payments. Six companies last year took advantage of the incentives.

The new Multimedia Center building is scheduled for completion by the end of the year. The Town Committee chose six companies as tenants for the building: CECCIL (確認 Takamatsu City), Okinawa Hitachi Network Systems (Naha City), FBS, FICL Digital Works, KIDS, and Kandou Keikaku. The companies are expected to employ ninety people, but how many of those will be from Kadena is unknown. The problem is that very few people in town have special skills. The center is expected to begin business in January. The companies occupying the center include a calling center, computer animation studio, computer graphics home page designer, and a music contents maker. The building offers its tenants the use of a terabyte-size data server and it is connected with the Multimedia Hall of Nago City and a virtual studio in Chatan Town for larger scale projects. This building is four stories high and its construction cost ¥2.4 billion.

Mayor Tokujitsu Miyagi says “We definitely want to promote our town as an attractive place for younger generation, and offer incentives for young brilliant people and specialists. And we cannot forget children who should grow in a good and stimulating environment.”

IT industry seems to be the town’s last effort to survive. Mayor Miyagi says “As our town does not have any space, we need to concentrate on IT.“ However, the problem is the lack of education. The six companies that took advantage of the town’s incentives last year employ a total of 192 persons, but only 20 were hired from Kadena Town and live there. Says Koichi Teruya who’s in charge of the town multimedia planning “The people that these companies need are those with high skills in technology that can lead young people of our town. Human promotion and education are the most urgent needs for us just now.”

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