From straws to biotech, China ramps up Pennsylvania investments

By Amy He | | Updated: 2017-06-17 00:17

From straws to biotech, China ramps up Pennsylvania investments

Gary Borochaner, a logistics manager who has been with the company for about two years, shared similar sentiments.

"I have had the opportunity to see [growth] because we've had to add people as we've grown. I'm one of the longest-tenured people here now," he said.

Many of the company's employees commented on the fast-pace of production, due in part to the high level of automation.

"I've only been here for about two months, but we've had some good training," said Dylan Frey, a lead technician. "There's a lot more automation and it's been fast-paced, but it's a good job."

Manufacturing in Lehigh Valley — the name given to the metropolitan area of Lehigh, Carbon, and Northampton counties — makes up the largest part of the region's economic output.

"For America today, to find a region [where] its biggest output is manufacturing is unusual because of the transition away from manufacturing in the United States," said Don Cunningham, president and CEO of the Lehigh Valley Economic Development Corporation (LVEDC), which worked to bring Fuling to Allentown.

A selling point for Fuling to put its plant in Lehigh Valley was the region's proximity to the rest of the Eastern seaboard and the Port of Newark, providing easy access to about 30 to 40 percent of the company's US customers, said Cunningham.

Fuling had scouted six or seven states before choosing Lehigh Valley, where the development agency worked with the state to develop an incentive package for Fuling.

Cunningham said that it was "somewhat of a ground-breaking approach" by Fuling to open up a manufacturing operation in the United States, and "to crawl before they walk or run, starting with [manufacturing] straws and trying to grow that into a profitable plant for Fuling globally."

Seeking investors

In China, Fuling's leaders have been "vocal advocates" for Lehigh Valley, which Cunningham said is "on the radar" enough with Asia-based manufacturers that it plans to send representatives to China to meet with potential investors. There are two companies in China that are looking to invest in the region, he said, but declined to name them.

It will be difficult for the manufacturing sector in the US to produce as much as it used to or for job numbers to be as high as they had been historically, Cunningham said, but Lehigh Valley has a skilled workforce that could be useful for Chinese companies looking to locate in Pennsylvania.

"In China there is movement for the smaller, non-state-owned companies to get plants closer to customer bases overseas because of the demand for labor in China. I think there is converging opportunity, both in manufacturing policy in China and what we have available here," he said.

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