News / USA

Chopsticks Carry 'Made in America' Label

Georgia company can't keep up with global demand

Georgia Chopsticks, which turns out two million pairs each day, expects to ramp up production to 10 million by the end of the year.
Georgia Chopsticks, which turns out two million pairs each day, expects to ramp up production to 10 million by the end of the year.

Multimedia

Audio
Philip Graitcer

In the United States, many products - such as cameras, computers and mobile phones - carry the label “Made in China.”

But the reverse is happening in the southeastern state of Georgia, where a small company is producing a quintessential Chinese product - chopsticks - for shipment to China and other countries. 

Made in the USA

“Right now we are making about two million pairs of chopsticks per day but we are increasing," says Jae Lee, president of Georgia Chopsticks. "End of this month, we’ll have seven machines coming in, so it’ll increase to like four million per day. End of this year, we’ll produce 10 million per day.”

Lee, a Korean-American, says the global market for chopsticks is huge because about one-third of the world’s population uses them. Japan alone goes through about 23 billion pairs of the disposable utensils each year.

Workers process the product at Georgia Chopsticks.
Workers process the product at Georgia Chopsticks.

Most chopsticks are made in China, where several hundred manufacturers turn out 63 billion pairs annually. But they are running short of wood.

Natural resources

Wood is something the U.S. town of Americus - where Georgia Chopsticks is located - has plenty of.

“Rural Georgia and the cities of rural Georgia, they’re blessed with tons of natural resources," says David Garriga, who heads the local economic development council. "The Pacific Rim, especially areas of China and Japan, they’ve run out of wood, but we have an abundance of it.”

In central Georgia, sweet gum and poplars grow like weeds, and, it turns out, these trees make perfect chopsticks. Their wood is pliable, straight and has a nice color.

China chopstick manufacturers are running low on wood, something that the state of Georgia has in abundance.
China chopstick manufacturers are running low on wood, something that the state of Georgia has in abundance.

That makes Georgia chopsticks especially attractive to consumers since, unlike Asian chopsticks, they do not need to be artificially lightened with chemicals and bleach.

Ramping up production

Americus has something else in abundance, besides wood: people.

Once a manufacturing center, the city lost jobs in the 1970s when companies relocated overseas. Now, Georgia Chopsticks is hiring.

“When I checked, Americus, they have like a 12 percent unemployment rate," says Lee. "In China, everybody believes that labor cost is cheap, but I believe that our quality is much better in the U.S.”

When Georgia Chopsticks opened at the end of last year, it received 450 job applications in just two weeks. Today, 57 people are employed at the factory and Lee hopes to ramp up production, hiring an additional 100 employees by the end of the year.

Susan White, who just started working at the company, thinks it’s great to be turning the tables and making something that is sold in China.

“Everywhere you see in America ‘Made in China,’" she says, "and you wonder if, in China, they ever see ‘Made from America.’”

The wood from Georgia's abundant sweet gum and poplars trees is ideal for chopsticks because it is pliable and does do not need to be artificially lightened with chemicals and bleach.
The wood from Georgia's abundant sweet gum and poplars trees is ideal for chopsticks because it is pliable and does do not need to be artificially lightened with chemicals and bleach.

Level playing field

The American connection to the chopstick trade is something local economic development council head Garriga finds ironic.

“Suddenly here’s a huge nation, fastest growing in the world, that finances part of our national debt, and here we are making their basic products and shipping it to them, like they’ve done for us for years. It’s just kind of a reverse.”  

Every chopstick made here goes overseas, where they are sold to supermarket chains in China, Korea and Japan. Right now, Georgia Chopsticks can’t keep up with demand.

It costs less than a penny to make a pair of chopsticks, but Lee isn’t making any money yet. To turn a profit, he needs to produce more than four million chopsticks a day, which he is on track to do in the next month or two.

The success of companies like Georgia Chopsticks demonstrates how the new global economy levels the playing field, according to Garriga.

“Prices and markets have evened out so much that America can produce these basic things and do well in the market.”

Since Georgia Chopsticks started production, Garriga has been contacted by Asian businesses interested in opening other kinds of manufacturing facilities in Americus.  

So, chopsticks may be the first in a long line of products produced for Asia, made in Americus and carrying the "Made in the USA" label.

You May Like

Video China Investigates Powerful Former Security Chief

Analysts say move by President Xi is an effort to win more party support, take step toward economic reforms, removing those who would stand in way of change More

South Africa Land Reforms Still Contentious 20 Years Later

Activists argue that the pace of land reform is slow and biased; legal experts question how some proposed reforms would be implemented More

In Vietnam, Religious Freedoms Violated, UN Finds

Beliefs reportedly prompt heavy surveillance, intimidation and travel restrictions More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Information War Rages Alongside Real One in Ukrainei
X
Al Pessin
July 31, 2014 8:13 PM
The downing of the Malaysian airliner two weeks ago, and allegations that Russians are shelling Ukrainian troops across the border, have moved the information war swirling around the Ukrainian conflict to a new level. VOA's Al Pessin reports from Kyiv.
Video

Video Information War Rages Alongside Real One in Ukraine

The downing of the Malaysian airliner two weeks ago, and allegations that Russians are shelling Ukrainian troops across the border, have moved the information war swirling around the Ukrainian conflict to a new level. VOA's Al Pessin reports from Kyiv.
Video

Video When Fighting Eases, Gazans Line Up at Bakeries

When there is a lull in the conflict in Gaza, residents who have been hunkered down in their apartments rush out to stock up on food and other necessities. Probably the most important destination is the local bakery. VOA’s Scott Bobb reports from Gaza City.
Video

Video US-Funded Program Offers Honduran Children Alternative to Illegal Immigration

President Obama and Central American leaders recently agreed to come up with a plan to address poverty and crime in the region that is fueling the surge of young migrants trying to illegally enter the United States. VOA’s Brian Padden looks at one such program in Honduras - funded in part by the United States - which gives street kids not only food and safety but a chance for a better life without, crossing the border.
Video

Video 'Fab Lab' Igniting Revolution in Kenya

The University of Nairobi’s Science and Technology Park is banking on 3-D prototyping to spark a manufacturing revolution in the country. Lenny Ruvaga has more for from Nairobi's so-called “FabLab” for VOA.
Video

Video Gazans in Shelled School Sought Shelter

Israel's air and ground assault against Hamas-led fighters in Gaza has forced many Palestinians to flee their homes, seeking safety. But safe places are hard to find, as VOA’s Scott Bobb reports from Jabaliya.
Video

Video Rapid Spread of Ebola in West Africa Prompts Global Alert

Across West Africa, health officials are struggling to keep up with what the World Health Organization describes as the worst ebola outbreak on record. The virus has killed hundreds of people this year. U.S. President Barack Obama and other world leaders are watching the developments closely as they weigh what actions, if any, are needed to help contain the disease.
Video

Video Michelle Obama: Young Africans Need to Embrace Women's Rights

U.S. first lady Michelle Obama urged some of Africa's best and brightest to advocate for women's rights in their home countries. As VOA's Pam Dockins explains, Obama spoke to some 500 participants of the Young African Leaders Initiative, a six-week U.S.-based training and development program.
Video

Video Immigrant Influx on Texas Border Heats Up Political Debate

Immigrants from Central America continue to cross the U.S.-Mexico border in south Texas, seeking asylum in the United States, as officials grapple with ways to deal with the problem and provide shelter for thousands of minors among the illegal border crossers. As VOA's Greg Flakus reports from Houston, the issue is complicated by internal U.S. politics and U.S. relations with the troubled nations that immigrants are fleeing.
Video

Video Study: Latino Students Most Segregated in California

Even though legal school segregation ended in the United States 60 years ago, one study finds segregation still occurs in the U.S. based on income and race. The University of California Los Angeles Civil Rights Project finds that students in California are more segregated by race than ever before, especially Latinos. Elizabeth Lee reports for VOA from Los Angeles.

AppleAndroid