In her short film Made by China in America for the “We the Economy” film series, Director Maio Wang doesn’t hold back. In her interviews with former employees of now-shuttered textile and manufacturing businesses in South Carolina, she brought to light the hardships that the community faced as they watched their livelihoods ship off to countries with cheaper labor and fewer regulations. Chief among these is China, which from 2001 to 2013 absorbed 3.2 million jobs from the US, 2.4 million of which were in the manufacturing sector. However, an interesting trend began in South Carolina leading up to the October 2014 debut of Wang’s film: Chinese manufacturing businesses are now starting to invest in South Carolina, building new plants and presenting an opportunity for those who lost their jobs.
The film focused on three Chinese-owned firms in the Palmetto State: the Keer Group textile firm in Lancaster County, JN Fibers Inc. in Chester County, and TDC Cutting Tools in Oconee County. In total, Keer plans to hire over 500 employees to make yarn once it finishes building all four of its new factories with an investment of $218 million. The Keer Group chose South Carolina due to cheaper production costs, especially the gathering of cotton needed to produce the yarn. The first factory, which is scheduled to open in the spring of 2015, will have 140 employees.
All three of the Chinese companies are looking to invest in the United States to expand their global markets. JN Fibers, under its subsidiary Sun Fibers, began operations in 2014’s third quarter. It has been updating an existing manufacturing facility in Richburg by investing $45 million and expanding its workforce to 318 employees to produce polyester staple fibers recycled from soda and water bottles.
After an initial investment of $8.2 million, TDC Cutting Tools expects to hire 38 new employees by the time the plant opens in May 2015 to produce drills, end mills and other cutting tools. It will be in the same location as TDC’s subsidiary Greenfield Industries, demonstrating an already well-established relationship between the company and South Carolina. Greenfield Industries also plans to establish its Outside of China Global Operations headquarters in South Carolina in the future.
Both the Keer Group and JN Fibers are located in South Carolina’s 5th district, which exported $647 million worth of goods to China in 2012. South Carolina’s 3rd district, where TDC Cutting Tools is located, was not far behind with roughly $626 million in exports to China that same year. In 2013, South Carolina’s total exports to China were valued at $4.9 billion, making China South Carolina’s largest export market.
Sarah Batiuk is the Event Coordinator and a Program Assistant at the East-West Center in Washington.