FORREST CITY, ARKANSAS —
One of China’s biggest textile mills is planning its first North American factory in a small town in the southern U.S. state of Arkansas.
Forrest City, located near the Mississippi River, is where the Chinese textile giant Shandong Ruyi plans a $410 million investment to spin yarn at a factory where local workers once built Japanese televisions.
Mayor Larry Bryant says the company is already working on training at the local community college.
"I think everybody is happy," Bryant said. "Everybody is waiting. If they would tell people tomorrow to come out to fill out applications, they would have thousands.”
Ruyi’s project will consume 200,000 tons of Arkansas cotton annually, nearly all the cotton the state grows each year. So Arkansas Economic Development Commission Executive Director Mike Preston expects a surge of new planting.
“That’s going to turn around and put money back in their pockets and the people they employ as well as anyone in between, people who are baling the cotton, transporting and bringing it to facility and anyone transporting out," he said. "So the supply chain on a company like this, a project like this is exponential.”
Some Chinese investors in the U.S. face challenges from labor unions amid claims of workplace culture clashes.
Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson, who has brought nearly $2 billion worth of Chinese investment to his state, says there are always cultural differences to work through.
“There are things we can learn from China entrepreneurship and China workers, how they do things and say, ‘Hey, it’s a great idea that we ought to adopt here.’ And vice versa," Hutchinson said. "I think you will see that China’s business leaders will see some very good practices that we have that they may want to adopt. I see this as a great win for both sides whenever we have those exchanges.”
The owner of a local barbecue restaurants expects the new Chinese bosses to receive a warm welcome in Forrest City.
“It can't do anything but help, not only my business, but all the businesses," said Pierre Evans, owner of Delta Q Barbecue. "That influx of income and influx of money is going to be a big impact to a small community like this.”
Local leaders are especially encouraged by the company's promise to create 800 jobs and offer wages of more than $15 an hour. That’s nearly double the minimum wage in a community that has been struggling economically for decades.