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Feature: Chinese company creates jobs in rural America

Xinhua, March 6, 2015 Adjust font size:

Melinda Rankin could not land a job for four years after the retail store she worked for went bankruptcy amid the financial crisis. She almost ran out of hope until China's Golden Dragon Precise Copper Tube Group Inc, a leading copper tube maker, opened a factory near her home.

"I used to have one, but that was a minimum wage low-paying job. Golden Dragon gave me an opportunity to better myself. I feel very comfortable working here," Rankin told Xinhua.

Rankin's hometown, the Wilcox County in Alabama of the United States, has a population of 11,000 and 40 percent of them live in poverty. The family median income is about half of the national average while the unemployment rate doubles the national level.

George Alford, manager of the Wilcox County Industrial Development Authority, told Xinhua that there had been no industrial investment since an apparel manufacturer moved out of town in the 1970s. The biggest employer is a paper mill with 400 workers. Wilcox has nothing to export but the human capital because people can not find jobs there.

In May 2014, the Golden Dragon, with its headquarter based in central China's Henan province, opened its first North American facility in the county, promising to provide 300 new full-time jobs in two years. This is expected to help cut the county's jobless rate by half and the factory was described by locals as a "hope project", which involves a total investment of 100 million U. S. dollars.

Golden Dragon's compound, a two-hour drive from Birmingham, Alabama's largest city, spans 100 acres (40 hectares) on the side of the Road 5. It has 190 American workers and 60 Chinese engineers and translators. The company imports copper from Chile, processes them in Alabama, and sells them to air conditioning makers in countries across the globe.

In order to convince Golden Dragon to land in Wilcox, local authority supplies free land and tax breaks, and even builds roads and bridges connecting the plant with the highway, for free.

The website of the Alabama Commerce Department has been keeping journals of Golden Dragon factory's development, showcasing it as a major "trophy" of State Governor Robert Bentley's effort to attract foreign investment.

At the "China Spotlight" event held in Birmingham early this year, almost every speaker quoted Golden Dragon as a prime model for foreign investors. U.S. journalists were hunting for the company's executives for interview. Venture investors were seeking any hints of the company's new moves.


Amid the bustling fanfare, Roger Zhang, President of Golden Dragon North America, remains cautious and calm.

"We have landed in America, but we are far away from success," he told Xinhua. While U.S. workers mark their Chinese names on the helmets, communication and culture barrier become the biggest challenge facing the company.

"We speak two different languages and we look at things from different angles," Keith Weil, Golden Dragon Copper's North American vice president, told Xinhua. "We discussed using white tents at our grand opening. While white is a positive color in the United States, it means funeral in China."

The company hopes to bring more translators and logistics personnel from China to Alabama, but their visa applications are turned down. "The federal government is too slow to act to better service foreign investors," Weil added.

The U.S. employers asked for two hours of coffee break everyday. "In China, tea break time could not be that long," Zhang said.

"But since we are running a factory in America, we should not do it in an entire Chinese way. Nor should we do it in an entire American way since it is run by the Chinese managers. The best way is to have a combination of the two," he said.

Culture clash is not a unique problem for Chinese companies running business in Alabama, but is shared by all foreign investors when they are doing business in America, Greg Canfield, Director of the Alabama Department of Commerce, told Xinhua.

"Chinese companies shy away from asking us for help, but in fact we are happy to advice," he added. Due to the appreciation of the Chinese currency, the rising cost of labor and the great pressure on industry restructuring, China is gradually losing its advantage as a global manufacturing hub based on intensive resource consumption, said Zhang.

Enterprises will surely like to steer themselves to places where the cost is low, and market demand is high, he said, adding that China has become a net capital exporter by the end of last year is an indication of that trend. Endite