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

VOA Exclusive: Interview With Myanmar President Thein Sein

Thein Sein calls allegations that minority Muslim Rohingya are fleeing alleged torture in Rakhine state a media fabrication More

Video Better Protective Suit Sought for Ebola Caregivers

Current suit is uncomfortable, requires too many steps for removal, increasing chance of deadly contact with virus More

UN Rights Commission Investigates Eritrea

Three-member commission will start collecting first-hand information from victims and other witnesses in Switzerland and Italy next week 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.
Ebola Economic Toll Stirs W. Africa Food Security Concernsi
X
November 19, 2014 11:39 PM
The World Bank said Wednesday that it expects the economic impact of the Ebola outbreak on the sub-Saharan economy to cost somewhere betweenf $3 billion to $4 billion - well below a previously-outlined worst-case scenario of $32 billion. Some economists, however, paint a gloomier picture - warning that the disruption to regional markets and trading is considerable. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Ebola Economic Toll Stirs W. Africa Food Security Concerns

The World Bank said Wednesday that it expects the economic impact of the Ebola outbreak on the sub-Saharan economy to cost somewhere betweenf $3 billion to $4 billion - well below a previously-outlined worst-case scenario of $32 billion. Some economists, however, paint a gloomier picture - warning that the disruption to regional markets and trading is considerable. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Mexico Protests Escalate Over Disappearances

Protests in Mexico over 43 students missing since September continue to escalate, reflecting growing anger among Mexicans about a political system they view as corrupt, and increasingly tainted by the drug trade. Mounting outrage over the disappearances is now focused on the government of President Enrique Pena Nieto, accused of not doing enough to end insecurity in the country. More from VOA's Victoria Macchi.
Video

Video US Senate Votes Down Controversial Oil Pipeline - For Now

The U.S. Senate has rejected construction of a controversial pipeline to transport Canadian oil to American refineries. The $5 billion project still could be approved next year, but it faces a possible veto by President Barack Obama. As VOA’s Michael Bowman reports, the pipeline has exposed deep divisions in Congress about America’s energy future.
Video

Video Can Minsk Cease-fire Agreement Hold?

Growing tensions between government troops and separatists in eastern Ukraine further threaten a cease-fire agreement reached two months ago in the Belarusian capital of Minsk. Critics of U.S. policy in Ukraine say it is time the Obama administration gives up on that much-violated cease-fire and moves toward a new deal with Russia. VOA's Scott Stearns has more.
Video

Video Chaos, Abuse Defy Solution in Libya

The political and security crisis in Libya is deepening, with competing governments and, according to Amnesty International, widespread human rights violations committed with impunity. VOA’s Al Pessin reports from London.
Video

Video US Hosts Record 866,000 Foreign Students

Close to 900,000 international students are studying at American universities and colleges, more than ever before. About half of them come from Asia, mostly China. The United States hosts more foreign students than any other country in the world, and its foreign student population is steadily growing. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Ferguson Church Grapples with Race Relations

Many white residents of Ferguson, Missouri, say they chose to live there because of the American Midwest community's diversity. So, they were shocked when a white police officer killed an unarmed black teenager in August – and shaken by the resulting protests and violence. Some local churches are leading conversations on how to go forward. VOA’s Ayesha Tanzeem reports.
Video

Video What Jon Stewart Learned About Iran From 'Rosewater'

Jon Stewart, host of the satirical news program "The Daily Show" talks with Saman Arbabi of Voice of America's Persian service about Stewart's directorial debut, "Rosewater."
Video

Video Lebanese Winemakers Thrive Despite War Next Door

In some of the most volatile parts of Lebanon, where a constant flow of refugees crosses the border from Syria, one industry continues to flourish against the odds. Lebanese winemakers say after surviving a brutal civil war in the 1970s and 80s, they can survive anything. Heather Murdock has more for VOA from the Bekaa Valley in Lebanon.
Video

Video China's Rise Closely Watched

China’s role as APEC host this week allowed a rare opportunity for Beijing to showcase its vision for the global economy and the region. But as China’s stature grows, so have tensions with other countries, including the United States. VOA’s Bill Ide in Beijing reports on how China’s rise as a global power is seen among Chinese and Americans.

All About America

AppleAndroid