Rising Chinese investment in U.S. goes beyond job creation

2015-09-25 08:44Xinhua Editor: Mo Hong'e

Need a job? Chinese companies are hiring!

At 7:30 a.m., parking places are already difficult to find around the Michigan factory of A123 Systems, an advanced U.S. battery maker, as the morning work shifts have already begun.

Acquired by China's largest auto parts company Wanxiang Group in early 2013, A123, once a leading developer and manufacturer of advanced lithium-ion batteries, was saved from bankruptcy. Its laid-off employees returned to work and more workers were hired.

Wanxiang is not alone. Backed by a huge home market and U.S. thirst for capital to spur its recovery from the 2008 financial crisis, an army of Chinese companies have made a good fist of acquisition and investment in the United States, growing local brands and creating jobs.

More importantly, job creation is only one of the encouraging results from Chinese investment.

The tie-up of abundant Chinese funds and distribution channels with advanced U.S. technology and management expertise has also sharpened competitiveness of the merged groups, generating an effect of one plus one being bigger than two.


Inside the factory of A123 Systems, several 24-hour production lines are busy rolling and churning out shiny new products, a scene that makes it hard for one to believe that the company had sunk into bankruptcy due to capital chain rupture just three years ago.

Only one year after the acquisition, Wanxiang has managed to turn the company to profitability and more than 500 U.S. jobs were saved. Recently, Wanxiang also announced a 300-million-dollar investment to expand production facilities in Michigan.

Greenfield Industries in South Carolina, which held a leadership role in the cutting tools industry, was acquired for 20 million dollars by China-based TDC Cutting Tools in 2009, when the company was dying and had only 116 employees.

At the first, "we were concerned, listening to different things on TV about Chinese how they were trying to buy everything. We were all concerned that they would bring their group of people and exclude us from what was going on, but it hasn't happened," employee Sherrie Carter recalled.

"It's like a family atmosphere and it has just been amazing," Carter added.

Now, the Greenfield Industries has been brought back to life and has 350 employees on its payroll.

A123 and the Greenfield Industries are typical of a spate of success stories of Chinese investment in the United States.

According to a recent study, Chinese investment in U.S. businesses now totals nearly 50 billion dollars and is expected to reach 200 billion dollars by the end of this decade.

And statistics released recently by China's Ministry of Commerce showed that Chinese investments now support about 80,000 full-time, a five-fold increase in the past five years.

For sure, jobs are not the only boon brought by the takeovers.

In 2013, Chinese textile manufacturer Keer Group invested 218 million dollars to build a plant to make industrial yarns in South Carolina, the former epicenter of the U.S. "southern textile corridor," which lost thousands of jobs in the tide of globalization since the 1980s.

A dyeing and printing factory and a cotton plant followed Keer's footsteps to settle nearby, contributing to the state's industrial revitalization.

Earlier this month, at the launch ceremony of an assembly line invested by the China Railway Rolling Stock Corporation (CRRC) in Massachusetts' Springfield, Mayor Domenic Sarno said the project will help revive local industry and inject fresh vitality to its economy.

Charlie Baker, governor of Massachusetts, also said the project "I believe has the potential to be a real milestone for Springfield and West Massachusetts," and "brings manufacturing back to the community."


In fact, Chinese investment has not just helped dying U.S. enterprises survive. The mergers have enabled companies on both sides to sharpen their competitive edge and secure mutual benefits by learning from each other, complementing each other and hedging against disadvantages.

Ni Pin, president of Wanxiang America, told Xinhua recently that the secret behind A123's rebirth and development is the combination of U.S. technique and China's huge market, as some 70 percent of A123's lithium-ion products were channelling back to China, which is expected to become the world's largest electric vehicle market within years.

Wan Long, chairman of Shuanghui, China's largest pork producer that purchased its U.S. counterpart Smithfield Foods in 2013, has said the acquisition provided Smithfield with huge Chinese market through Shuanghui's distribution network while Shuanghui gained access to high-quality, competitively-priced and safe U.S. products, as well as Smithfield's best practices and operational expertise.

"The combination creates a company with an unmatched set of assets, products and geographic reach," Wan added.

It is worth mentioning that sophisticated Chinese companies have tried hard to optimize the merged firms by giving full swing to their U.S. counterparts' advantages.

After acquiring IBM's PC division in 2005, Chinese IT company Lenovo preserved IBM's corporate culture and structure, keeping its two operational centers -- one in Morrisville, North Carolina, and the other in Beijing -- and retaining most of the management.

Yang Yuanqing, chairman and CEO of Lenovo, told Reuters in April that "we spent as much energy on bringing together our cultures as we did on our processes and business functions."

Ten years on, Lenovo has grown into the world's biggest PC maker, amazing the world with operating income growing by an average 28 percent a year.

In addition, Chinese firms have also been shifting their strategy, investing more heavily in research and innovation for long-term and sustainable development.

A study of Rhodium Group has showed a rapidly increasing share of the Chinese investment is now going to more advanced, innovation-intensive industries such as high-tech sectors.

In the first quarter of 2014 alone, Chinese investors announced high-tech deals worth more than 6 billion dollars, including the high-profile takeover of Motorola Mobility and IBM's x86 server unit by Lenovo, and Wanxiang's acquisition of electric carmaker Fisker.

Chinese-owned companies also see a significant increase in research and development (R&D) spending in the United States, from near zero in 2007 to 31 million dollars in 2009 and further to 366 million dollars in 2011.


Nonetheless, investing in the United States is not a road of all roses. In their efforts to enter the U.S. market, Chinese multinationals unavoidably face risks, doubts and hurdles.

Chinese enterprises lost 36.8 billion dollars from 2005 to 2013 mainly because of their ignorance of local regulatory and cultural environment, according to China Global Investment tracker jointly launched by American Enterprises Institute and the Heritage Foundation.

"Investing in the U.S. market is a big trend, but you must make very good market research beforehand, or you will lose money here, " Victor Yuan, senior vice president of Sany Heavy Industry Corporation, has said.

Meanwhile, U.S. regulators and lawmakers, who are holding doubts and even biased views towards Chinese firms, have deliberately imposed restrictions to block Chinese companies from entering such sectors as energy and transportation. It is even harder for the Chinese financial companies to pry open U.S. market.

"U.S. regulators and lawmakers have no thorough understanding of China's financial sector, and still hold biased views towards Chinese financial companies," according to Xu Chen, president and CEO of the Bank of China USA.

However, neither doubts nor restrictions can prevent China-U.S. business ties from growing.

Earlier this month, China Railway Group-led consortium and U.S firm XpressWest Enterprises inked a deal to build a high-speed rail line linking Las Vegas with Los Angeles.

The first China-funded U.S. high-speed rail project was the latest embodiment of deeper China-U.S. business ties.

Undoubtedly, the business ties will keep growing. At a China-U.S. CEO roundtable in Seattle Wednesday, visiting Chinese President Xi Jinping has called for boosting win-win economic cooperation between the two countries. Seattle is the first leg of Xi's state visit to the United States on Sept. 22-25.

Among others, Xi said "Chinese companies' investment in the United States has been on the rise in recent years, creating a great number of job opportunities in the country."

"We support large American businesses in setting up regional headquarters or research and development centers in China, and encourage more small- and medium-sized companies to expand businesses in China. Meanwhile, China will keep increasing its investment in the United States," he said.

Stressing that China-U.S. economic and trade cooperation is mutually beneficial in nature, Xi said there are new opportunities facing China and the United States and they should deepen bilateral economic cooperation for the benefit of the two countries' development and the world's prosperity.



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