- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 16, 2004

Benjamin Franklin will add a jolt of electricity to the world’s fair next year in Aichi, Japan.

Organizers of the U.S. Pavilion are incorporating the Founding Father into their effort on the world stage in hopes of boosting the United States’ image abroad and reversing declining interest in the global event.

Aichi USA 2005, the Washington-based organization developing and operating the U.S. Pavilion, began soliciting private sponsors earlier this year and has raised the initial $20 million necessary to build the pavilion.

Additional funds are still needed for cultural programming, which will include arts and entertainment.

“It’s important that the U.S. is represented in Japan,” said Douglas M. West, president and chief executive of Aichi USA. “This is an opportunity for exposure in the Japanese consumer market and business world. This is something we need to do.”

The 2005 World Exposition, with the theme “Nature’s Wisdom,” will host an estimated 15 million visitors from March to September in central Japan, southwest of Tokyo. The United States, which is one of 125 participating countries, expects at least 1 million visitors at its 17,000-square-foot pavilion —about 10,000 each day.

In the past, world fairs have featured the most innovative art, inventions and technologies, including the telephone in 1876 and the Eiffel Tower in 1889.

Recent fairs, however, have been undermined by poor attendance. As a result, U.S. presence and support at the world’s fair has waned over the years. For the first time in the fair’s 149-year history, the United States did not participate in the 2000 fair in Hanover, Germany, because it could not raise enough private funding.

Under a 1994 federal law, no public funds can be used to finance the U.S. Pavilion.

The United States, which hasn’t hosted a fair since 1984 in New Orleans, last participated in the 1998 fair in Lisbon.

“This is too significant for the United States not to be there,” said Mr. West, a former executive for Toyota Motor North America and Toyota Motor Sales USA.

As the fund raising has gained momentum, more sponsors are donating money and services. Sponsors include General Motors, Penske Corp., ExxonMobil and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

Officials say the sponsorships help U.S. businesses to get increased exposure to the Japanese market, establish relationships with Pacific Rim business leaders and meet face-to-face with foreign government officials.

The sponsors will get access to the VIP suite, “a skybox” style mezzanine overlooking the pavilion’s main floor, where they can entertain guests, hold business meetings and networking events.

“This is a great opportunity to do 10 things at one time,” said Thomas J. Donohue, president and chief executive officer of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. “All the right people come there.”

Aichi USA has enlisted BCR Imagination Arts in Burbank, Calif., the George P. Johnson Co. in Auburn Hills, Mich., and Hollomon Architects in Jackson, Miss., to design, create and run the U.S. Pavilion, which is using the theme “the Franklin Spirit.”

After many brainstorming sessions, the team chose Franklin, whose 300th birthday is celebrated this year, as the symbolic icon to emphasize the Expo’s themes of progress and the importance of man’s relationship to the natural world.

Franklin’s accomplishments and vision —such as unlocking the nature of electricity and inventing bifocal glasses — were exactly what the team was looking for.

“He’s the perfect spokesperson,” said Bob Rogers, founder, president and chairman of BRC Imagination, which has worked on such projects as the new Ford Motor Rouge Factory Tour.

Officials are still ironing out the details of the pavilion. It will include a 250-seat theater where visitors can watch a nine-minute show featuring Franklin.

The show will include special effects and a hologram of Franklin talking to the audience about all that has been accomplished and what’s expected in the future.

After the show, the group will move into another area of the pavilion that will display U.S. artifacts reflecting the American spirit both past and future.

“We have a great message … of hope, optimism, enterprise and freedom,” Mr. Rogers said.

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