China helping to revive South Carolina's textile industry

By Dong Leshuo in Greenville South Carolina | China Daily USA | Updated: 2017-06-02 11:18

South Carolina, once a center of the American textile industry, has seen the business rebound through an influx of Chinese companies.

"The exciting thing that I heard today is many of the Chinese investors that we were talking to today were textile (focused). Many of our communities in South Carolina were traditionally textile," said Thomas "Tommy" Pope, speaker pro tempore of the South Carolina House of Representatives.

"The Chinese companies are kind of bringing back the textile industries here," said Knox White, mayor of Greenville.South Carolina, a growing city in the northwest corner of the state and home to the US operations of about 20 Chinese companies.

White spoke to more than 100 business executives from China in Greenville on Wednesday.

Textiles, mostly cotton, once dominated the economy of the South. Employment in the textile industry peaked in June 1948 with 1.3 million workers.

US textile manufacturing plunged in the 1990s and 2000s, as the industry shifted to countries with lower labor costs, mainly in Asia.

About 650 US textile plants closed between 1997 and 2009, draining thousands of jobs and depressing communities.

In North Carolina, 40 percent of the state's jobs were in textiles and apparel making in 1940. By 2013, just 1.1 percent of that state's jobs were in textiles, according to a report in USA Today.

"Some Chinese companies moved into buildings that are abandoned textiles plants. They do find that we still have a workforce that understands textiles. They can readily pick right up again," said White.

In February 2013, Chinese manufacturer Keer founded its American headquarters on a 165-acre textile campus in Lancaster County, where it plans to invest $218 million and create more than 500 new jobs by 2018.

"We started trying to talk to Chinese businesses and develop the relationships almost 15 years ago. Those relationships have now grown into some great successes in attracting Chinese businesses to this region of South Carolina," said White, who has traveled to China about 16 times and has a daughter who studies at Suzhou University.

"For the citizens in South Carolina, it's an exciting opportunity to see textile coming back," said Pope, whose father, mother and grandmother all worked in the industry.

"We would like to see if there are opportunities here as our partner, Keer, has already opened their factory here," said Qiu Jianlin, chairman of Zhejiang Hengyi Group Co Ltd.

Hengyi, which had a profit of about $120 million in 2016, is a polyester and petrochemical products manufacturer based in Hangzhou, East China's Zhejiang province.

"The transparency of policy makes investing in the US less uncertain to us," Qiu said.

Zhu Shanqing, Keer's chairman, told The New York Times that the reason Keer decided to come to South Carolina is because of incentives, land, the environment and the workers.

"The community is very open to that and very welcoming. It's very pro business, low tax, climate ... that works well for all kind of businesses," White said.

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