There’s an old newspaper maxim which holds that a “Man bites dog” story will grab more reader interest than “Dog bites man” item on the basis of sheer novelty.
That pearl of reporting wisdom came to me as I read a recent release detailing how a Chinese maker of plastic cutlery and food service ware would be opening its newest manufacturing site in Pennsylvania.
“Production of [insert plastic commodity here] moved to [insert low-labor cost country here]” headlines achieved “Dog bites man” status some time ago in the U.S. Today, those stories are less common simply on the basis of most so-called “shoot-and-ship” commodity processing having long since left the states, as well as a reshoring push that has seen a not insignificant amount of work come back, but even more rare is a “Chinese maker of commodity plastic goods announces U.S. production” news report.
Such was the case on May 29, however, when China-based Taizhou Fuling Plastics Co., Ltd. announced plans to open its first production facility outside China in Allentown, Penn. Headquartered in Wenling City, Zhejiang Province, Fuling is now leasing an 88,000-ft2 building site in Lehigh County to serve as its first manufacturing site in the U.S. In China, it runs 120 injection molding machines, 10 extrusion lines, and 20 thermoforming lines.
According to a release, Fuling plans to invest more than $21 million in building improvements as well as new machinery and equipment, with a commitment to create at least 75 jobs within the next three years. It’s that last point that helped Fuling earn a $33,750 Guaranteed Free Training grant from Pennsylvania’s Department of Community and Economic Development (DCED), with the monies to be used to train its new workforce. Additionally, the company will receive a $150,000 Pennsylvania First Program grant and $150,000 in Job Creation Tax Credits.
At this time, Fuling Plastics USA has three employees, including Bob Chapleski, hired on as the VP of production. Chapleski is entering his 25th year of manufacturing, with much of that experience in plastics packaging, including stints at Nestle Waters, Sabert Corp., and most recently, Tray-Pak, where he was the director of manufacturing. After interviewing with Fuling's U.S. sales manager, Chapleski was interviewed by the owners of Fuling, Xin Hu and his wife Guilan Jiang, who flew to the U.S. and spoke with Chapleski through a translator.
Fuling injection molds, thermoforms and extrudes service ware, including plates, cups, utensils and straws, using PS, PP, and PLA for customers in the U.S., Europe, Australia, South America and the Middle East. Current customers include fast-food giants KFC, Wendy’s, Burger King and Subway, as well as supermarket chains, including Wal-Mart and Target.
The company is leasing a 70,000-ft2 building for its U.S. operations. Chapleski said current plans call for injection molding and extrusion, producing drinking straws, cups, bowls, and lids. Initially, the plan is to install 12 injection molding machines and 12 extrusion lines, including the requisite auxiliaries, in the July, August timeframe, with production by the fourth quarter. Fuling estimates it will save $10 million annually on shipping costs alone by relocating U.S.-bound production to the U.S.
I asked Pennsylvania’s Department of Community & Economic Development (DCED) how the seemingly odd match of Chinese cutlery manufacturer and the Keystone State came to be, and they said it was Fuling that initially contacted the U.S. Consulate in Shanghai, which in turn reached out to the Pennsylvania Authorized Investment Representative’s office in Taiwan. Pennsylvania was among a “few” states that were contacted, according the DCED.
According to Chapleski, Fuling also scoped out potential locations in the Carolinas, New Jersey, Maryland, and three sites in Pennsylvania before settling on Lehigh County. The representative also noted that Fuling is not the first foreign company to invest in Pennsylvania.
Citing the Financial Times, the office said that Pennsylvania was one of only three U.S. states to have a positive growth in Foreign Direct Investment in 2013 over 2012.
“2014 is shaping up to be another growth year for Pennsylvania as it relates to FDI with several foreign companies investing in Pennsylvania,” the representative added. The representative also explained that this FDI is in part the result of Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett’s business development missions to France and Germany in 2012 and Brazil and Chile in 2013.
Perhaps more "Foreign maker of commodity plastic goods announces U.S. production” headlines will be coming across the wire.
As a plant manager in the manufacturing heavy Northeast, Chapleski sat in on round tables where participants anticipated a story like Fuling's coming along. "I knew manufacturing would be coming back to the states," Chapleski said, "it was just a matter of time. When I started with Fuling, I thought, 'How great is this?' One, manufacturing by U.S. employees, U.S.-made products for some very large, stable customers. On top of that, Fuling is the biggest and the best in all of China for food service ware, really high technology."
An added bonus is when manufacturing reshores so close to home. "It's very exciting stuff for me; it's right in my backyard. I love that."