Ni hao, y'all: Chinese firms setting up operations, creating jo - ABC 33/40 - Birmingham News, Weather, Sports

Ni hao, y'all: Chinese firms setting up operations, creating jobs in Alabama

Posted: Updated:
(AP Photo/Alabama Governor's Office, Jamie Martin) (AP Photo/Alabama Governor's Office, Jamie Martin)
(AP Photo/Alabama Governor's Office, Jamie Martin) (AP Photo/Alabama Governor's Office, Jamie Martin)
PINE HILL, Ala. (AP) — Burdened with Alabama's highest unemployment rate, long abandoned by textile mills and furniture plants, Wilcox County desperately needs jobs.

They're coming, and from a most unlikely place: Henan Province, China, 7,600 miles away.

Henan's Golden Dragon Precise Copper Tube Group opened a plant here last month. It will employ more than 300 in a county known less for job opportunities than for lakes filled with bass, pine forests rich with wild turkey and boar and muddy roads best negotiated in four-wheel-drive trucks.

"Jobs that pay $15 an hour are few and far between," says Dottie Gaston, an official in nearby Thomasville.

What's happening in Pine Hill is starting to happen across America.

After decades of siphoning jobs from the United States, China is creating some. Chinese companies invested a record $14 billion in the United States last year, according to the Rhodium Group research firm. Collectively, they employ more than 70,000 Americans, up from virtually none a decade ago.

Powerful forces — narrowing wage gaps, tumbling U.S. energy prices, the vagaries of currency markets — are pulling Chinese companies across the Pacific. Mayors and economic development officials have lined up to welcome Chinese investors. Southern states, touting low labor and land costs, have been especially aggressive.

In the case of the Pine Hill plant, tax breaks, some Southern hospitality and a tray of homemade banana pudding helped, too.

"Get off the plane and the mayor is waiting for you," says Hong Kong billionaire Ronnie Chan.

In March, Dothan, Alabama, held a two-day U.S.-China manufacturing symposium, drawing dozens of potential Chinese investors. On sale were T-shirts reading: "Ni hao, y'all" — combining the Chinese version of "hello" with a colloquial Southernism.

Chinese executives wandered around during a street festival, experiencing Americana by snapping photos of vintage '60s muscle cars. A Chinese company, in a deal negotiated before the symposium, announced it would bring a 3D printing operation to Dothan.

Among other Chinese projects in the United States that are creating jobs:

— In Moraine, Ohio, Chinese glassmaker Fuyao Glass Industry Group Co. is taking over a plant that General Motors abandoned in 2008 and creating at least 800 jobs. The site puts Fuyao within four hours' drive of auto plants in Ohio, Kentucky and Indiana.

— In Lancaster County, South Carolina, Chinese textile manufacturer Keer Group is investing $218 million in a plant to make industrial yarn and will employ 500. South Carolina nudged the deal along with a $4 million grant.

— In Gregory, Texas, Tianjin Pipe is investing over $1 billion in a factory that makes pipes for oil and gas drillers. The company expects to begin production late this year or early in 2015. It will have 50 to 70 employees by the end of this year and 400 to 500 by the end of 2017.

The United States and China have long maintained a lop-sided relationship: China makes things. America buys them. The U.S. trade deficit in goods with China last year hit a record $318 billion. And for three decades, numerous U.S. manufacturers have moved operations to China.

The flow is at least starting to move the other way. One reason is that in the past decade, the cost of labor, adjusted for productivity gains, has surged 187 percent at Chinese factories, compared with just 27 percent in the United States, according to Boston Consulting Group.

In addition, Chinese electricity costs rose 66 percent, more than twice the United States' increase. The start of large-scale U.S. shale gas production has helped contain U.S. electricity costs.

And the value of China's currency has risen more than 30 percent against the U.S. dollar over the past decade. The higher yuan has raised the cost of Chinese goods sold abroad and, conversely, made U.S. goods more affordable in China.

Those rising costs have cut China's competitive edge. In 2004, manufacturing cost 14 percent less in China than in the United States; that advantage has narrowed to 5 percent. If the trend toward higher wages, energy costs and a higher currency continues, Boston Consulting predicts, U.S. manufacturing will be less expensive than China's by 2018.

Cost isn't the only allure. As Chinese companies build more sophisticated products, they want to work more directly with U.S. customers.

"Being close to the marketplace is good for everybody," says Loretta Lee, a Hong Kong entrepreneur who just opened a shoe factory in Tennessee.

Sometimes, political pressure nudges Chinese firms into investing in America. Tianjin Pipe, for instance, began building its Texas plant after the U.S. imposed sanctions against Chinese-made pipes in 2010, notes Thilo Hanemann, Rhodium's research director.

Local officials here in southwestern Alabama went out of their way to lure Golden Dragon, which wanted to build a plant to make copper tubing for air conditioners.

At first, the company considered Thomasville, just across the border in Clarke County. But Thomasville didn't have any suitable sites after Golden Dragon decided it needed three times as much space as originally sought.

"I was almost in a panic," recalls Thomasville Mayor Sheldon Day.

But Day spotted an industrial park in Wilcox County with plenty of space. Day says he didn't mind the project going to a neighboring county. The plant would employ Thomasville residents, too.

And there was another benefit: Wilcox County — stuck with 15.5 percent unemployment, Alabama's highest — qualified for extra aid. It landed $8 million in state and federal grants to help build an annex road and sewage lines for the project.

Wilcox County also gave the company 100 acres of a 274-acre industrial park it bought for $1.2 million and a break on local property taxes. And Alabama offered to reimburse the company up to $20 million of its costs for building the $100 million factory. It will get the full amount if it ends up hiring 500 people, says George Alford of the Wilcox County Industrial Development Authority.

Local officials assembled all the public agencies and utilities Golden Dragon will have to deal with — from Alabama Power to the Port of Mobile — in one room on one day so company executives could have their questions answered at once.

The message, Day said, was: "If you come here, we'll hold your hand."

A banquet was organized with both traditional Southern fare, such as pinkeye purple hull peas, and Chinese dishes from Thomasville's New China Buffet restaurant.

When the visiting Chinese were seen devouring homemade banana pudding, "we took them the whole tray," Day says.

To prepare for future banquets, Thomasville is buying Chinese-style dining tables with built-in turntables.

Still, culture and language can remain a barrier. Local officials hastily replaced a black-and-white banner welcoming Golden Dragon after learning that the colors signified a funeral to the Chinese.

"Nobody wants a faux pas," says John Clyde Riggs, executive director of a regional planning commission.

Golden Dragon and the future Dothan 3D join two other Chinese firms in Alabama: Continental Motors in Mobile makes piston engines for aircraft. And Shandong Swan USA in Montgomery makes saws for cotton gins.

Alabama and other Southern states have followed the example of South Carolina, which nabbed the first Chinese plant in America 14 years ago when appliance giant Haier built a refrigerator plant in Camden.

John Ling, who runs South Carolina's Shanghai office, has an empty factory he's pitching to Chinese firms. It's been shuttered for four years — since the former owners closed it and moved the jobs to China.

"We will see more and more Chinese projects coming," Ling says. "It's at the very beginning."

  • Central Alabama NewsMore>>

  • Fire danger rises for Labor Day weekend

    Fire danger rises for Labor Day weekend

    Friday, August 29 2014 11:59 PM EDT2014-08-30 03:59:40 GMT
    Our recent dry weather has created the perfect conditions for fire danger. More >>
    Our recent dry weather has created the perfect conditions for fire danger. More >>
  • Talladega parents allege school employee wrote racist Facebook posts

    Talladega parents allege school employee wrote racist Facebook posts

    Friday, August 29 2014 7:32 PM EDT2014-08-29 23:32:28 GMT
    Several parents and community members in Talladega are upset Friday over allegations of racial comments made from a school employee's Facebook page.More >>
    Several parents and community members in Talladega are upset Friday over allegations of racial comments made from a school employee's Facebook page.More >>
  • Hackleburg High School preps for first home game in three years

    Friday, August 29 2014 4:57 PM EDT2014-08-29 20:57:25 GMT
    Tonight is a homecoming three years in the making for Hackleburg High School. The team takes the field tonight in their new stadium, finally completed after an E-F five tornado destroyed it on April 27, 2011.It is sure to be a packed house at Ray Stadium as the Hackleburg panthers take on Marion County, tonight at 7:00 p.m. This is going to be an emotional night, not only for the school, but for the community as well. "This is going to be an emotional game, an emotional crowd. This field ho...More >>
    Tonight is a homecoming three years in the making for Hackleburg High School. The team takes the field tonight in their new stadium, finally completed after an E-F five tornado destroyed it on April 27, 2011.It is sure to be a packed house at Ray Stadium as the Hackleburg panthers take on Marion County, tonight at 7:00 p.m. This is going to be an emotional night, not only for the school, but for the community as well. "This is going to be an emotional game, an emotional crowd. This field ho...More >>
  • Birmingham Area NewsMore>>

  • Rescue workers digging to save man buried in a hole

    Rescue workers digging to save man buried in a hole

    Saturday, August 30 2014 1:14 PM EDT2014-08-30 17:14:20 GMT
    Birmingham Fire and Rescue units are on the scene of an accident where a man has been buried in a hole. Crews reportedly are digging to pull the man out. It's not known exactly what happened at this time or how the man was trapped in the hole which collapsed on him. ABC 33/40 has a crew at the scene on Mayfield Ave. and 24th St. SW. We will have more as the story develops,More >>
    Birmingham Fire and Rescue units are on the scene of an accident where a man has been buried in a hole. Crews reportedly are digging to pull the man out. It's not known exactly what happened at this time or how the man was trapped in the hole which collapsed on him. ABC 33/40 has a crew at the scene on Mayfield Ave. and 24th St. SW. We will have more as the story develops,More >>
  • City Council to get update on education in Birmingham

    City Council to get update on education in Birmingham

    Friday, August 29 2014 8:55 PM EDT2014-08-30 00:55:45 GMT
    The Birmingham City Council is hosting a lunch meeting with the Birmingham Board of Education to discuss the current state and direction of the Birmingham City Schools. The meeting will be held Tuesday, September 2, 2014 from 12:45 p.m. to 2 p.m. at Regions Bank in the Executive Dining Room."We want to make sure that as a council we are engaged in all aspects of development for our city," Council President Jonathan Austin said. "It is very important that are continually updated on areas such ...More >>
    The Birmingham City Council is hosting a lunch meeting with the Birmingham Board of Education to discuss the current state and direction of the Birmingham City Schools. The meeting will be held Tuesday, September 2, 2014 from 12:45 p.m. to 2 p.m. at Regions Bank in the Executive Dining Room."We want to make sure that as a council we are engaged in all aspects of development for our city," Council President Jonathan Austin said. "It is very important that are continually updated on areas such ...More >>
  • Exclusive: Birmingham beats out Miami for DOT conference

    Exclusive: Birmingham beats out Miami for DOT conference

    Friday, August 29 2014 6:34 PM EDT2014-08-29 22:34:48 GMT
    ABC 33/40 has learned that the City of Birmingham beat out Miami for a DOT conference. A date for the conference has yet to be scheduled but hosting such an event gives the city an opportunity to solicit federal funding for transportation projects throughout the metro. Count on us to pass along any new information as soon as we get it.More >>
    ABC 33/40 has learned that the City of Birmingham beat out Miami for a DOT conference. A date for the conference has yet to be scheduled but hosting such an event gives the city an opportunity to solicit federal funding for transportation projects throughout the metro. Count on us to pass along any new information as soon as we get it.More >>
  • Anniston - Gadsden Area NewsMore>>

  • Arrest made in large level extortion scheme

    Arrest made in large level extortion scheme

    Friday, August 29 2014 12:45 PM EDT2014-08-29 16:45:16 GMT
    "Everett Leon Stout, 72 and Miriam Clair Schultz, 67 are charged with 14 counts of extortion.More >>
    "Everett Leon Stout, 72 and Miriam Clair Schultz, 67 are charged with 14 counts of extortion.More >>
  • Gadsden police recover more than 300 stolen items; felony charges against suspected fence

    Gadsden police recover more than 300 stolen items; felony charges against suspected fence

    Thursday, August 28 2014 11:22 PM EDT2014-08-29 03:22:34 GMT
    Joe Walker Pearl (Photo: Etowah County Sheriff's Office)Joe Walker Pearl (Photo: Etowah County Sheriff's Office)
    Police in Gadsden are trying to return hundreds of stolen items to their rightful owners. Captain Paul Cody said officers bust a large fencing operation this week. Joe Pearl, 75, is the suspect in the case. It took a long time to sort through and document a very wide range of stolen property. "We've collected a lot of stuff," Cody said. "Toilet paper. We have non-firearms related weapons, we have karaoke machines, musical instruments, car stereos, underwear."More >>
    Police in Gadsden are trying to return hundreds of stolen items to their rightful owners. Captain Paul Cody said officers bust a large fencing operation this week. Joe Pearl, 75, is the suspect in the case. It took a long time to sort through and document a very wide range of stolen property. "We've collected a lot of stuff," Cody said. "Toilet paper. We have non-firearms related weapons, we have karaoke machines, musical instruments, car stereos, underwear."More >>
  • Gadsden police arrest suspect in deadly stabbing case

    Gadsden police arrest suspect in deadly stabbing case

    Thursday, August 28 2014 11:37 AM EDT2014-08-28 15:37:31 GMT
    William D'Angelo McKinney (Photo: Etowah County Sheriff's Office)William D'Angelo McKinney (Photo: Etowah County Sheriff's Office)
    Investigators in Gadsden said a man strangled his ex-girlfriend Tuesday evening before stabbing another man to death. Officers arrested 30-year-old William D'Angelo McKinney Wednesday night. He faces charges for murder and domestic violence with strangulation. Police said McKinney went to his ex-girlfriend's home in the Mill Village area and let himself in. Investigators said she asked him to leave, but he shoved her and then put her in a headlock until she blacked out.More >>
    Investigators in Gadsden said a man strangled his ex-girlfriend Tuesday evening before stabbing another man to death. Officers arrested 30-year-old William D'Angelo McKinney Wednesday night. He faces charges for murder and domestic violence with strangulation. Police said McKinney went to his ex-girlfriend's home in the Mill Village area and let himself in. Investigators said she asked him to leave, but he shoved her and then put her in a headlock until she blacked out.More >>
Most Popular
Stories
Videos
loading...
  • Latest StoriesMore>>

  • Rescue workers digging to save man buried in a hole

    Rescue workers digging to save man buried in a hole

    Saturday, August 30 2014 1:14 PM EDT2014-08-30 17:14:20 GMT
    Birmingham Fire and Rescue units are on the scene of an accident where a man has been buried in a hole. Crews reportedly are digging to pull the man out. It's not known exactly what happened at this time or how the man was trapped in the hole which collapsed on him. ABC 33/40 has a crew at the scene on Mayfield Ave. and 24th St. SW. We will have more as the story develops,More >>
    Birmingham Fire and Rescue units are on the scene of an accident where a man has been buried in a hole. Crews reportedly are digging to pull the man out. It's not known exactly what happened at this time or how the man was trapped in the hole which collapsed on him. ABC 33/40 has a crew at the scene on Mayfield Ave. and 24th St. SW. We will have more as the story develops,More >>
  • Tony Stewart back at the track, looking to heal

    Tony Stewart back at the track, looking to heal

    Saturday, August 30 2014 12:20 AM EDT2014-08-30 04:20:07 GMT
    Tony Stewart should be back in his comfort zone at a NASCAR track, ready for racing.More >>
    Tony Stewart took his seat on the podium - unshaven, his eyes glassy - and unfolded a sheet of paper. His voice quivered as he read, pausing to maintain his composure as he described the death of a driver he hit as "one of...More >>
  • Fire danger rises for Labor Day weekend

    Fire danger rises for Labor Day weekend

    Friday, August 29 2014 11:59 PM EDT2014-08-30 03:59:40 GMT
    Our recent dry weather has created the perfect conditions for fire danger. More >>
    Our recent dry weather has created the perfect conditions for fire danger. More >>
  • City Council to get update on education in Birmingham

    City Council to get update on education in Birmingham

    Friday, August 29 2014 8:55 PM EDT2014-08-30 00:55:45 GMT
    The Birmingham City Council is hosting a lunch meeting with the Birmingham Board of Education to discuss the current state and direction of the Birmingham City Schools. The meeting will be held Tuesday, September 2, 2014 from 12:45 p.m. to 2 p.m. at Regions Bank in the Executive Dining Room."We want to make sure that as a council we are engaged in all aspects of development for our city," Council President Jonathan Austin said. "It is very important that are continually updated on areas such ...More >>
    The Birmingham City Council is hosting a lunch meeting with the Birmingham Board of Education to discuss the current state and direction of the Birmingham City Schools. The meeting will be held Tuesday, September 2, 2014 from 12:45 p.m. to 2 p.m. at Regions Bank in the Executive Dining Room."We want to make sure that as a council we are engaged in all aspects of development for our city," Council President Jonathan Austin said. "It is very important that are continually updated on areas such ...More >>
  • Talladega parents allege school employee wrote racist Facebook posts

    Talladega parents allege school employee wrote racist Facebook posts

    Friday, August 29 2014 7:32 PM EDT2014-08-29 23:32:28 GMT
    Several parents and community members in Talladega are upset Friday over allegations of racial comments made from a school employee's Facebook page.More >>
    Several parents and community members in Talladega are upset Friday over allegations of racial comments made from a school employee's Facebook page.More >>
  • Fairview High School football stadium condemned; Game night plans change

    Fairview High School football stadium condemned; Game night plans change

    Friday, August 29 2014 6:36 PM EDT2014-08-29 22:36:45 GMT
    High school football continues into its second week of the season. Stadiums across Alabama will be filled with "Friday night lights.” But, one local stadium that's supposed to host a game will remain empty. The Fairview High School football stadium was condemned Thursday night.More >>
    High school football continues into its second week of the season. Stadiums across Alabama will be filled with "Friday night lights.” But, one local stadium that's supposed to host a game will remain empty. The Fairview High School football stadium was condemned Thursday night.
    More >>
  • Exclusive: Birmingham beats out Miami for DOT conference

    Exclusive: Birmingham beats out Miami for DOT conference

    Friday, August 29 2014 6:34 PM EDT2014-08-29 22:34:48 GMT
    ABC 33/40 has learned that the City of Birmingham beat out Miami for a DOT conference. A date for the conference has yet to be scheduled but hosting such an event gives the city an opportunity to solicit federal funding for transportation projects throughout the metro. Count on us to pass along any new information as soon as we get it.More >>
    ABC 33/40 has learned that the City of Birmingham beat out Miami for a DOT conference. A date for the conference has yet to be scheduled but hosting such an event gives the city an opportunity to solicit federal funding for transportation projects throughout the metro. Count on us to pass along any new information as soon as we get it.More >>
  • Hackleburg High School preps for first home game in three years

    Friday, August 29 2014 4:57 PM EDT2014-08-29 20:57:25 GMT
    Tonight is a homecoming three years in the making for Hackleburg High School. The team takes the field tonight in their new stadium, finally completed after an E-F five tornado destroyed it on April 27, 2011.It is sure to be a packed house at Ray Stadium as the Hackleburg panthers take on Marion County, tonight at 7:00 p.m. This is going to be an emotional night, not only for the school, but for the community as well. "This is going to be an emotional game, an emotional crowd. This field ho...More >>
    Tonight is a homecoming three years in the making for Hackleburg High School. The team takes the field tonight in their new stadium, finally completed after an E-F five tornado destroyed it on April 27, 2011.It is sure to be a packed house at Ray Stadium as the Hackleburg panthers take on Marion County, tonight at 7:00 p.m. This is going to be an emotional night, not only for the school, but for the community as well. "This is going to be an emotional game, an emotional crowd. This field ho...More >>