Governor beats jobs bushes in China

Posted: November 4, 2017 at 1:56 a.m.

Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson, in the midst of his third trip to China, said he would deem it a success if the five Chinese manufacturers that have announced plans to open operations in the state follow through.

"Obviously, there would be an extra bonus if there are additional investments made on some of the new calls we're making here," he told reporters in a videoconference call Friday morning from Shanghai.

Hutchinson described the trip, which is to end in Japan early next week, as productive, but he made no major job announcements from the journey as he has done on some of his previous foreign trips.

"It's been an extraordinary trip thus far," he said. "We have a lot more to do."

The governor is leading an eight-member delegation that includes Mike Preston, the executive director of the Arkansas Economic Development Commission. The total cost of the trip to the state is approximately $70,079, with the Arkansas Economic Development Foundation covering additional costs as needed, according to Jeff Moore, an agency spokesman.

Hutchinson said he met with former Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad, the U.S. ambassador to China, to discuss the inspections that China wants to conduct before Arkansas rice can be sold there.

Also in Beijing, he said he met with representatives of the China National Textile and Apparel Association. "I see that as an opportunity sector for us in Arkansas. We've already recruited two garment and textile companies from China to re-shore in Arkansas."

But to ensure that they and the other three companies actually come to Arkansas was the "major purpose" of the trip, he said.

The companies include:

Sun Paper, which said it will build a $1 billion bio-products mill near Gum Springs, about 5 miles south of Arkadelphia, and create 250 jobs.

Shandong Ruyi Technology said it will invest $150 million in a former Sanyo plant in Forrest City and employ 800 people.

Tianyuan Garments Co. announced it will invest $20 million in a Little Rock facility with 400 jobs.

Pet Won Pet Products said it will open a $5 million facility in Danville, about 24 miles southwest of Russellville, to develop pet treats and create 70 jobs.

Most recently, Heifei Risever Machine Co., which employs 1,000 people in China making machine parts for Caterpillar, Volvo, Komatsu and other heavy-equipment manufacturers, announced it will build its first U.S. plant, investing $20 million over five years and employing 130 people in Jonesboro to produce 18,000 tons of steel parts annually.

"The follow-through on each of these announcements is very, very important to me," Hutchinson said. "I don't believe in making an announcement and not having that come to actual reality and investment and jobs being created."

He already has met with officials with Sun Paper and Ruyi.

"Sun Paper is one of the largest investments, of course, with the $1 billion paper mill in the Arkadelphia area," the governor said. "They are looking at ways that they can make sure they utilize our timber resources, and they have an even greater need for it today than when they signed the [memorandum of understanding]. That project is moving along."

Hutchinson said Ruyi expects to begin production in June. "They are moving ahead."

Preston said a meeting with Tianyuan officials is scheduled for today.

"We don't control everything but we're doing everything we can to make sure that our relationships are strong, those investments take place," Hutchinson said.

The trip comes ahead of a state visit to China by President Donald Trump, which the governor said could help Arkansas efforts on both the agriculture and manufacturing fronts.

"I expect his visit in China will be very positive for Arkansas," Hutchinson said. "It will be positive in the sense that his visit will lead to increased return of manufacturing from China to the United States. And I certainly want Arkansas to get its share of that.

"Secondly, it's been indicated to me that President Trump will have on the agenda the [agricultural] issues that are [important] to me and to our farmers in Arkansas, hopefully to encourage China to accelerate their final review process so that market will be open."

Hutchinson added that he suspects that China is "slow-walking" the rice issue "until they have the right opportunity with President Trump's visit. I'm hopeful this will accelerate it."

The trip could take years to bear fruit in terms of additional investment.

"It sends a incredible strong signal to China that Arkansas is serious about the global investments here," Hutchinson said. "Those are the tests to me. The fact that we started out with zero Chinese companies investing in Arkansas and now we have five indicates every one of these trips has been very successful."

Business on 11/04/2017