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WisBusiness: New lab continues Kikkoman's long relationship with Wisconsin

MADISON -- Kikkoman Corp. Chairman Yuzaburo Mogi figures he has been to Wisconsin at least 200 times in the past 35 years.

So he was on familiar ground Tuesday when he dedicated his company's new research-and-development lab at the University Research Park on Madison's west side.

Mogi said he has high hopes that Kikkoman scientists and UW-Madison researchers can collaborate on new food and other products in coming years. The lab will open early in 2009.

"Kikkoman and Wisconsin have enjoyed a long, productive relationship," said Mogi, who headed the team that opened his company's soy sauce production facility in Walworth County in 1963. "I am sure it will continue with this lab."

Mogi was joined at the research park by a host of business, political and academic leaders, including Gov. Jim Doyle, Madison Mayor Dave Cieslewicz, UW-Madison Chancellor Biddy Martin, Chiba Prefecture Gov. Akiko Domoto and park director Mark Bugher.

In an interview following the announcement, Mogi told WisBusiness.com that Kikkoman has been working with the state for many years and that establishing an R&D lab in the park was a natural extension of that relationship. He said he had been to the university about 15 times.

“UW-Madison has very good researchers in the field of biotechnology, food science and so forth,” said Mogi, who noted that his company has two other international R&D centers in Singapore and The Netherlands.

Mogi, who has worked for Kikkoman since 1958, said his company did not consider any other universities or research parks.

“We started a production facility in Wisconsin 35 years ago and we have very close relationships with Wisconsin,” he said, noting that there was no need to look any further for a place for a research center. He said each of the international labs will focus on developing new products for their countries and regions.

In contrast to 35 years ago, when some residents of Walworth County opposed the building of what is now a 700,000-square-foot soy sauce production facility, he said research park officials, government leaders and the university welcomed Kikkoman with open arms.

He said past opposition was based on the desire to keep manufacturing facilities away from prime agricultural land, not because of any anti-Japanese bias. He said the Walworth site was ideal because of its location near soybean acreage, access to transportation, a low crime rate and a high quality labor force.

“Wisconsin workers are very good,” he quipped. “Almost the same as Japanese.”

Mogi said Kikkoman, a $4 billion company, had been thinking about opening R&D centers abroad five years ago. The Singapore facility opened three years ago, while the Dutch center began work last year.

He said he did not know what kind of products would come from the work at the Madison lab, though beer or wine are probably not among possible results.

“We can study what we call functional foods with UW-Madison scientists ... to enhance their health benefits,” said Mogi, who noted that his company also owns a winery, soy milk firm and health food company as subsidiaries.

But Mogi said he did not foresee soybeans being used for ethanol or other kinds of fuel.

He said he believed that non-food crops, such as byproducts from paper and lumber mills, should be used to make fuel, not corn or soybeans.

“The price of grain is going up and one of the reasons is because some of it is used for fuel,” he said. “I personally feel that biofuels should be made from non-edible sources.”


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