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

UN Ambassador Power Highlights Plight of Women Prisoners

She launches the 'Free the 20' campaign, aimed at profiling women being deprived of their freedom around the world More

Satellite Launch Sparks Spectacular Light Show

A slight delay in a satellite launch lit up the Florida sky early this morning More

Fleeing IS Killings in Syria, Family Reaches Bavaria

Exhausted, scared and under-nourished, Khalil and Maha's tale mirrors those of thousands of refugees from war-torn countries who have left their homes in the hopes of finding a better life 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.
Nobel Prize Winner Malala Talks to VOAi
X
August 31, 2015 2:17 AM
Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai met with VOA's Deewa service in Washington Sunday to talk about women’s rights and unveil a trailer for her new documentary. VOA's Katherine Gypson has more.
Video

Video Nobel Prize Winner Malala Talks to VOA

Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai met with VOA's Deewa service in Washington Sunday to talk about women’s rights and unveil a trailer for her new documentary. VOA's Katherine Gypson has more.
Video

Video War, Drought Threaten Iraq's Marshlands

Iraq's southern wetlands are in crisis. These areas are the spawning ground for Gulf fisheries, a resting place for migrating wildfowl, and source of livelihood for fishermen and herders. Faith Lapidus has more.
Video

Video Colombians Flee Venezuela as Border Crisis Escalates

Hundreds of Colombians have fled Venezuela since last week, amid an escalating border crisis between the two countries. Last week, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro ordered the closure of a key border crossing after smugglers injured three Venezuelan soldiers and a civilian. The president also ordered the deportation of Colombians who are in Venezuela illegally. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Rebuilding New Orleans' Music Scene

Ten years after Hurricane Katrina inundated New Orleans, threatening to wash away its vibrant musical heritage along with its neighborhoods, the beat goes on. As Bronwyn Benito and Faith Lapidus report, a Musicians' Village is preserving the city's unique sound.
Video

Video In Russia, Auto Industry in Tailspin

Industry insiders say country relies too heavily on imports as inflation cuts too many consumers out of the market. Daniel Schearf has more from Moscow.
Video

Video Scientist Calls Use of Fetal Tissue in Medical Research Essential

An anti-abortion group responsible for secret recordings of workers at a women's health care organization claims the workers shown are offering baby parts for sale, a charge the organization strongly denies. While the selling of fetal tissue is against the law in the United States, abortion and the use of donated fetal tissue for medical research are both legal. VOA’s Julie Taboh reports.
Video

Video Next to Iran, Climate at Forefront of Obama Agenda

President Barack Obama this week announced new initiatives aimed at making it easier for Americans to access renewable energy sources such as solar and wind. Obama is not slowing down when it comes to pushing through climate change measures, an issue he says is the greatest threat to the country’s national security. VOA correspondent Aru Pande has more from the White House.
Video

Video Arctic Draws International Competition for Oil

A new geopolitical “Great Game” is underway in earth’s northernmost region, the Arctic, where Russia has claimed a large area for resource development and President Barack Obama recently approved Shell Oil Company’s test-drilling project in an area under U.S. control. Greg Flakus reports.
Video

Video Philippine Maritime Police: Chinese Fishermen a Threat to Country’s Security

China and the Philippines both claim maritime rights in the South China Sea.  That includes the right to fish in those waters. Jason Strother reports on how the Philippines is catching Chinese nationals it says are illegal poachers. He has the story from Palawan province.
Video

Video China's Spratly Island Building Said to Light Up the Night 'Like A City'

Southeast Asian countries claim China has illegally seized territory in the Spratly islands. It is especially a concern for a Philippine mayor who says Beijing is occupying parts of his municipality. Jason Strother reports from the capital of Palawan province, Puerto Princesa.
Video

Video Ages-old Ice Reveals Secrets of Climate Change

Ice caps don't just exist at the world's poles. There are also tropical ice caps, and the largest sits atop the Peruvian Andes - but it is melting, quickly, and may be gone within the next 20 years. George Putic reports scientists are now rushing to take samples to get at the valuable information about climate change locked in the ice.

VOA Blogs