Beyond the Beltway: Chinese-made jobs, American-made products

World Today

U.S. President Donald Trump made his first visit to China having frequently accused his hosts of stealing U.S. jobs. But Chinese companies are creating them all over the United States, and often in places that voted for Trump. So how do those companies navigate the rhetoric?

CGTN’s Owen Fairtclough reports from Tennessee.

A short drive from Nashville – the home of country music – China is quietly challenging perceptions about where jobs are created and lost in the global economy. The first Chinese-owned ceramics factory in the US is turning out 10,000 square meters of tiles every day.

“The customer is actually looking for Made in the USA,” according to Charles Huang, CFO of American Wonder Porcelain. “Whether it’s a residential customer or commercial customer, they all want Made in the USA.”

American Wonder Porcelain brings raw materials from North Carolina, paints the tiles with a digital printer, and then fires them in a 200 meter long Italian kiln. The facility’s size is equivalent to roughly ten football fields. If it seems empty, however, that’s because the technology being used means they can make tiles with around ten times less staff than they’d need in China.

Labor costs for this sector are lower in China, but manufacturing in the U.S. provides huge savings. This factory also created 150 jobs, while recruitment is underway for 70 more.

And yet, Charles admits that it hurts to hear President Trump accuse his native China of stealing jobs.

“We’re not stealing. I mean, it’s globalization,” he said. “I can see other countries, their labor costs are going up, so I think it’s a very good time for the USA to bring jobs back.”

Local employees caught in the debate over protectionism versus open trade don’t seem to mind. Joe Dillard used to work for Japanese owned Nissan.

“They brought it here for us, to give us a job. We have the American flag on our tiles,” the kiln operator said. “I’m proud to run this. It takes a team to run this. We’re all paying our bills, we hope, you know.”

This isn’t the only Chinese-owned manufacturer in Tennessee. A 30 minute drive away, Sinomax recently set up its first U.S. factory to turn out foam products such as mattress toppers and pillows.

Chief Executive Frank Chen also tries to tune out the politics as he aims to add another 150 staff to the 200 already hired.

“We’re coming here to create jobs. We’re not stealing jobs. Look at the employees – they’re all Americans.”

This sentiment is shared on the shop floor, where electronics giant Whirlpool once stored goods before moving to Mexico – another flashpoint in the protectionism debate.

“China actually employs people in Tennessee, so that means they employ America,” Sinomax Material Handler Deron Arnold said.

Back at American Wonder Porcelain, an expansion is underway, with a railway will help company transport materials and products coast to coast. And if China-U.S. trade relations can be fiery, this company prefers to focus its heat on generating trading opportunities.