The European headquarter of Japanese specialty chemicals company Kuraray is located just down the road from Frankfurt Airport. But it’s not merely the location that makes the Rhine-Main region ideal for this sustainability- and socially-oriented company – the area is also home to one of Europe’s largest Japanese communities.
Japanese concept stores and sake bars, a Japanese softball team and one of the largest Japanese communities in the whole of Europe: the non-business world also shows that Frankfurt and the Rhine-Main region are highly popular European locations for Japanese firms. One such company is specialty chemicals producer Kuraray from Tokyo Prefecture. It took a considered decision to move its European headquarters to Hattersheim am Main – next door to Frankfurt Airport. “The transportation links here are excellent and we can reach all our global sites easily. You couldn’t find a more central location in Europe. And the people here are also very open and internationally oriented. That’s particularly important for our expats from Japan and other countries,” says Carsten Simon, Vice President of Kuraray Europe.
The global Kuraray Group is one of the world’s largest suppliers of industrial polymers and synthetic microfibers to a large number of industries. Other portfolio offerings include specialty chemicals, activated carbon filters, thermoplastic elastomers, fibers, man-made leather, and dental products. The Kuraray Group generates roughly half of its annual revenue of EUR 4.8 billion with divisions that are global leaders in these fields. Hattersheim-based subsidiary Kuraray Europe is Europe’s leading producer of polyvinyl alcohol and polyvinyl butyral. What is more, the safety glass interlayers manufactured at Kuraray’s production plant in Frankfurt’s Industriepark Höchst are used in automotive and architectural applications, such as the famous dome on the Reichstag building in Berlin.
Highly qualified staff and optimum production conditions
Such a specialized and innovative company needs highly qualified staff and optimum production conditions. Kuraray found both of these in Hessen, investing in administrative, research, and production facilities alike. In 2001 it acquired suitable production capacity in Industriepark Höchst and started relocating its headquarters from Düsseldorf, further to the West, to the Rhine-Main region. “Frankfurt is in the middle of Germany, is a center for the chemical industry, has extremely well trained staff, and is an extremely attractive economic location. The region also offers a very high quality of life. These are all decisive criteria for us and are highly appreciated by our Japanese expats,” says Simon.
"Frankfurt is in the middle of Germany, is a center for the chemical industry, has extremely well trained staff, and is an extremely attractive economic location. The region also offers a very high quality of life. These are all decisive criteria for us and are highly appreciated by our Japanese expats."
Roughly 5,500 Japanese citizens live in Hessen, and approximately 300 Japanese firms have branches here. “Our foreign colleagues feel very happy here, because they’re welcomed with open arms and can tap into business and private networks. The Japanese softball team in which our expats can play their national sport in the Rhine-Main league and Nippon Connection, the Japanese film festival in Frankfurt for which we are one of the sponsors, are two really good examples of how international communities live together in Hessen,” Simon explains.
These close links are also reflected at the highest political level: In 2022, the Hessen-Japan Business Reception at Schloss Wilhelmsbad in Hanau was attended by representatives of Japanese companies, Hessen’s Minister for Economic Affairs Tarek Al-Wazir, Hessen Trade & Invest CEO Rainer Waldschmidt, and a large number of public and private sector participants. Apart from celebrating the traditionally close relationship between Japan and Hessen, the event also discussed the potential for transformation on the road to a sustainable economy.
Sustainability in the Energy Efficiency Network
This is because sustainability is firmly embedded in traditional Japanese corporate culture, explains Dr. Jörg Schappel, Head of Quality Management at Kuraray Europe. “Nearly a century ago, Kuraray’s founder Ōhara Magosaburō already focused consistently on social aspects and the common good as well as on economic considerations. We derive our responsibility to protect our environment, improve global health, and develop clean chemicals from these principles,” says Schappel.
More specifically, Kuraray Europe is involved in the city of Frankfurt’s Energy Efficiency Network Rhine-Main, for which it has been awarded a seal of approval from AGEEN, the Working Group on Energy Efficiency Networks in Germany. Kuraray significantly improved the energy efficiency of its production lines at its Höchst site through intelligent process management, integrating heat recovery with the solvent recovery process, and revamping materials transportation.
“We work closely together with customers to develop innovations like these, because we can only put sustainability into practice if we all join forces. This means that networks – which are heavily encouraged here in Hessen – are highly important.”
Social commitment in the neighborhood
Above and beyond this, Kuraray develops sustainable products such as PLANTIC™. More than 80% of this biopolymer is made of cornstarch, a renewal and completely biodegradable material. Despite this, it effectively excludes oxygen, and hence preserves aromas, when used in multilayer packaging. “We work closely together with customers to develop innovations like these, because we can only put sustainability into practice if we all join forces. This means that networks – which are heavily encouraged here in Hessen – are highly important,” underlines Schappel.
The company is also public spirited in its social commitment. “We are involved in Frankfurt’s Maltese Order Social Day, make donations to daycare facilities and schools in the neighborhood, and sponsor children’s cancer foundations and playgrounds. This social dimension of sustainability is an important part of Japanese culture. And it allows us to give back directly to Hessen and the Rhine-Main region, and to say thank you among other things for the excellent conditions here for us as a company,” says Simon.
Kuraray Europe GmbH was formed in 1991. It is headquartered in Hattersheim near Frankfurt am Main and generated revenue of EUR 690 million in 2018. Roughly 700 staff work for Kuraray at the company’s German sites in Hattersheim, Frankfurt, and Troisdorf. Kuraray is a global specialty chemicals firm and a major supplier of polymers and synthetic microfibers – such as KURARAY POVAL™, Mowital®, Trosifol®, and CLEARFIL™ – to a large number of industries. A further 200 employees at six European locations also work in the development and application of innovative performance-based materials for a large number of sectors such as the automotive, paper, glass making and packaging industries, and for architects and dentists.
Kuraray Europe is a wholly-owned subsidiary of the listed Japanese Kuraray Group, which is headquartered in Tokyo. The Group employs more than 10,000 people worldwide and generates annual revenue of EUR 4.8 billion.