ANAHEIM, CALIF. -- From the outside, the plant could belong to any of the hundreds of electronics makers that have found a home in the industrial parks of Orange County. And even on the inside, Fujitsu Business Communications of America resembles any other electronic components manufacturing plant.
In fact, nothing either inside or outside even hints that this operation, which makes telecommunications components, is anything other than an American electronics manufacturing plant. And that is exactly the way Fujitsu Ltd. wants it, and exactly what the giant Japanese electronics maker has repeated at a variety of factories, business offices and laboratories its two American subsidiaries operate throughout the United States.
The development of Fujitsu's two North American subsidiaries -- Fujitsu America Inc. and Fujitsu Microelectronics Inc. -- has occurred very quietly.
Over the past 10 years, the company's two American subsidiaries have opened a total of five manufacturing plants, and five research and development laboratories from Palm Beach, Fla., to San Diego. All told, the subsidiaries have nearly 5,000 employees and combined annual sales considerably in excess of $1 billion.
Fujitsu intends to continue its spectacular growth rate. Within the next year, its subsidiaries will open two new manufacturing plants and expand operations at several existing facilities. Invariably, executives say, there will be acquisitions and joint ventures to spur additional growth.
The reasons for the latest spurt in growth are varied. They include protectionist sentiment, particularly when it comes to Japanese electronics products; the aborted attempt to buy Fairchild Semiconductor Corp. last year; America's huge trade deficit with Japan; and the near-record buying power of the yen in the United States.
But Fujitsu executives say the primary reason for the rapid expansion at this time is its need to be close to its American customers because of its growing interest in designing customized electronic components and products.
"As we look to make more of the so-called value-added products, we need to be closer to the customer," said Ken Katashiba, senior vice president and special assistant at Fujitsu Microelectronics. "We have to have a mental relationship with the customer. We have to design the products from the perspective of the user."
Although Fujitsu's steady but quiet growth exemplifies the style of Japanese multinational companies with large American operations, Fujitsu has decided recently to raise its national profile. The decision comes at a time when the company could most use the exposure.
For one, Fujitsu plants are increasingly manufacturing completed products, rather than just components, and the company wants to introduce consumers to its wares. For another, Fujitsu wants Americans to know just how much this Japanese company has invested in the United States.
Fujitsu opened its first U.S. operation in 1976 in San Jose, where Fujitsu America made computer components. Over the next decade, the subsidiary, which is the larger of the two American units, gradually grew. Today it has 4,000 employees, four manufacturing plants and five research and development centers. Its products include telephone equipment, computer disk drives, laser printers, modems, facsimile systems, electronic cash registers and automated teller machines.
Fujitsu Microelectronics, which was spun out of the larger subsidiary in 1979, makes computer chips exclusively. The 800-employee unit operates a manufacturing plant in San Jose and is building a second factory in Portland, Ore.
Fujitsu Microelectronics is perhaps best known for the headlines it made last year with its unsuccessful effort to buy Fairchild for about $200 million. The company withdrew its offer for the chip maker when high-level U.S. government officials expressed fears that the purchase could harm the American semiconductor industry and, possibly, national defense programs.
Despite the Fairchild experience, Katashiba says Fujitsu intends to pursue other possible acquisitions or joint ventures and has assigned a small team to find potential deals. Another possibility, Katashiba says, is starting a new chip-making facility from the ground floor.