How Jimmy Carter's Push for Macon Zipper Manufacturer Plant Turned into a Lifelong Friendship
Updated: Mar 1
By CBS Affiliate WMAZ (Macon, GA)
One of Macon's largest employers is about to celebrate 50 years in Bibb County.
Zipper manufacturer YKK says this celebration wouldn't be possible without President Jimmy Carter who was instrumental in bringing the company to Central Georgia.
YKK's vice president over manufacturing in Macon, Marty Timms, says the relationship between President Jimmy Carter and YKK's founder goes beyond business.
It became a friendship that's lasted decades and even generations.
"I don't think we would be here if it weren't for Jimmy Carter and for his desire to do something that was relatively new," Timms said.
This story starts in 1974 while Jimmy Carter was Georgia's Governor.
Carter's special assistant Cloyd Hall was from Macon and introduced him to the Japanese businessman Tadao Yoshida.
Yoshida was looking to expand in the Southeast.
Carter recruited the company speaking highly of its philosophy which they call the "cycle of goodness."
"It's about ensuring that we're continuing to invest not only in the employees, but in the communities that were involved in," Timms said.
Timms says YKK became the first Japanese company in Georgia. YKK built their plant on Ocmulgee East Boulevard in 1974.
Carter had a hand in the development from the land acquisition to grand opening. He even would swing by to check on construction.
"It shows that, you know, he was committed to doing something and when he was committed to doing it, he saw it all the way through," Timms said.
Carter's talks with Yoshida went beyond business. Carter built a friendship with him and his family. Yoshida was there for Carter's inauguration in January 1977.
Yoshida family has often visited the Carters in the U.S.-- even in his hometown of Plains, Georgia. Carter visiting them in Kurobe and Tokyo, Japan.
"It was a lifelong partnership, lifelong friendship between Jimmy Carter and Tadao Yoshida which really led to not only the initial investment but then the magnitude of how we invested in Middle Georgia," Timms said.
In one of Carter's visit to Kurobe in 1984, Carter was a starter for a running race. Much to the surprise of his Secret Service's bodyguards, he decided to be a part of the race. Pictures show how he jumped off a chair and ran with the kids. Now, the race is named in Carter's honor.
Roughly three years after the plant opened, YKK's headquarter city, Kurobe, Japan, became Macon's sister city. The relationship is now engrained in Macon's International Cherry Blossom Festival. Japan is a permanent "featured country" in the festival.