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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

Here in the U.S., the Midwest is feeling reverberations from the disaster in Japan because so many Japanese companies operate in the American heartland; it's not just automakers.

Reporter Niala Boodhoo, of the Midwest public radio project Changing Gears, checked in with other Japanese companies that are busy assessing the damage.

NIALA BOODHOO: A few miles from O'Hare International Airport, the signs in this office kitchen are in English and Japanese. This is where ITA and a few other businesses that deal with Japan every day are located.

Mr. SHIN KISHIOKA (President, ITA): (Foreign language spoken)

BOODHOO: ITA president Shin Kishioka is on the phone. It's a regular ritual that's increased since the earthquake, as he checks in with clients.

This company helps American divisions of Japanese firms, like Panasonic or Mitsubishi. Since the earthquake, Shin Kishioka says workers have handling some unusual requests.

Mr. KISHIOKA: Especially disaster-related products, such as gas tanks and potty johns.

BOODHOO: Japanese are also asking for help with large items like excavating equipment. There are more than 160,000 people across the Midwest directly working for Japanese businesses. Only about half of them work in manufacturing the rest are companies like Kishioka's, doing work like IT, finance, or legal services.

There are also many large American corporations employing workers in Japan. Peoria-based Caterpillar Inc. is one of them. The company has 5,000 employees at a two big manufacturing facilities in southern Japan.

Caterpillar's Jim Dugan says initial reports are that its Japanese workers and facilities are okay. The company is now focused on aiding the relief effort.

Mr. JIM DUGAN (Corporate Affairs Representative, Caterpillar): Corporately, as well as our dealers, we'll provide a range of assistance in the form of equipment, sometimes expert operators, that equipment and those operators often used again in the rescue and recovery efforts after a disaster.

BOODHOO: Michael Moskow is a senior fellow at the Chicago Council for Global Affairs and is chairman of the Japan-American Society of Chicago.

Mr. MICHAEL MOSKOW (Vice Chairman and Senior Fellow, Global Economy, The Chicago Council on Global Affairs): When you look at natural disasters like this, they tend to not change the longer-term trend of economic development, whether it would be in Japan or in the Midwestern part of the United States.

BOODHOO: Moskow says it's hard to predict how long the Japanese business sector will take to recover. As it does, he sees business opportunities in construction and other rebuilding efforts.

Mr. KISHIOKA: (Foreign language spoken)

BOODHOO: Back at ITA, most of the talk is about the earthquake. ITA's CEO Shin Kishioka, was in Japan during the Kobe earthquake in 1995.

Mr. KISHIOKA: With the government support, like we had experienced in Kobe, the quick recovery, as constructions go faster and things turn out better.

BOODHOO: A quick recovery would be good news for hundreds of companies across the Midwest doing billions of dollars in business each year with Japan.

For NPR News, I'm Niala Boodhoo in Chicago.

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