Wilcox County, Alabama is one of the least developed counties in America. According to the 2005-2009 American Community Survey from the US Census Bureau, nearly 37% of the county lives below the poverty line. The median family income in Wilcox is just $29,000 a year and its unemployment rate recently hit 15.5%, both of which are the worst in the entire state.
A Chinese company is set to change things for the better. On May 28, Golden Dragon Precise Copper Tube Group Inc. (GD Group) —a company that makes copper tubing for air conditioning, ventilation, and heating systems—opened a $100 million factory in Wilcox County and currently employs 150 workers. Jobs at the plant will pay around $40,000 a year, a much needed income boost for many of the affected families. GD Group is the first major industry in nearly 50 years to settle in Wilcox and will be receiving tax credits in exchange for meeting and maintaining agreed upon employment levels. Alabama representatives are hopeful that GD Group’s investment will bring substantial improvements to the area. As Alabama Secretary of Commerce Greg Canfield stated during the grand opening, “This investment by Golden Dragon in Wilcox County will make a real difference in this rural region of Alabama […] these jobs bring real opportunity for the people of Wilcox County and the surrounding counties.” GD Group expects to employ 300 Alabama workers once the factory achieves full production capacity in one to two years, while local Alabama officials anticipate employment to reach around 500.
The grand opening on May 28 appears to be the initial stage of what will be a much larger expansion. “What we see today is our project Phase No. 1” said GD Group Chairman Li Changjie during the ceremony. “We will have a Phase No. 2 and a Phase No. 3 […] GD Copper is proud to be part of the Alabama/Wilcox County community and looks forward to continued growth in the state.”
The new factory is Alabama’s third from a Chinese company and is an important representation of the positive influence that Alabama-China commercial relations have had on the overall economy. In 2012, for instance, nearly $2.5 billion in Alabama’s exports were sent directly to China, with 27% of exports sent to Asia as a whole. The 7th congressional district, of which Wilcox County is a part, sent $299 million in exports to China in 2012, comprising more than half of the district’s total exports to Asia. In addition, from 2007 to 2012, Alabama’s growth of jobs supported by goods exports to Asia was 52%. GD Group’s investment in Wilcox County will further benefit Alabama and provide an important economic stimulus for one of the state’s, and the country’s, least developed counties.
Rep. Terri Sewell, who has represented the 7th district since 2011, told Asia Matters for America, "The crisis of systemic unemployment remains the most urgent issue facing my constituents in Alabama's 7th Congressional District. This is why I am particularly excited that Golden Dragon Copper has brought more than 300 jobs to Wilcox County with the opening of its first U.S. factory in Pine Hill, Alabama. I am confident that Golden Dragon Copper is going to serve as an economic engine in the state of Alabama and I look forward to the much needed resources and long-term economic growth it will provide for citizens in the 7th Congressional District."
Andy Nguyen is a research intern at the East-West Center in Washington and a graduate student at Georgetown University.