The state of Ohio has announced plans for Chinese auto-glass manufacturer Fuyao to take over more than a million square feet of the former General Motors plant in Moraine, south of Dayton. The news is a major breakthrough for southwest Ohio, which has been struggling for decades with the slow trickle-out of major American manufacturers from the area.
At a press conference Friday morning, Governor John Kasich said Fuyao’s plant will be the ninth-largest Chinese investment in the United States, and the single largest Chinese investment in Ohio. The company is headquartered in Fuzhou, China, and employs more than 18,000 people worldwide. The new glass plant could bring up to 800 jobs to the area and is expected to be open by the end of 2015, with a possibility of hiring for manufacturing jobs by the end of 2014.
“I don’t know what skills sets the former GM employees have, but JobsOhio and the governor have told me that those employees are highly qualified,” said Cao Dewang, the chairman and founder of Fuyao Glass Industry Group.
The symbolism of a new manufacturer—from China—coming into the abandoned property was lost on no one at the Columbus announcement event.
““This plant was headed for demolition...if it was demolished, there would never be jobs here again,” said Stu Lichter, President of Industrial Realty Group (IRG). IRG is already known in Ohio for its work developing a Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co. in Akron, Ohio.
In 2011, state and local officials worked with Industrial Realty Group to have the company purchase and maintain the building, which used to house a factory employing over 4,000 workers. That was just three years after GM pulled its last thousand workers from Ohio.
Fuyao’s chairman Cao specifically credited Kristi Tanner of JobsOhio, the state’s private development arm, for pursuing the company and pushing to complete the complex deal. Fuyao will spend $200 million on the plant in the U.S. and $220 million on a plant in Russia in an effort to expand its customer base internationally. Fuyao’s U.S. customers include GM, Chrysler, Hyundai, Honda and Kia.
"When I first saw the Moraine facility, I fell in love with it right away," said Cao. The businessman gave gifts to Stu Lichter and the governor at the press event, and he spoke with a humility rare in presentations by American business leaders. "As an entrepreneur I can't say I'm the best, but I will do my best to make it happen."
Although several smaller tenants have moved in to the GM Moraine plant since 2011, Kasich admitted southwest Ohio and Dayton have been through difficult economic times.
“They’ve been pummeled over a period of years,” said the governor at the opening of the press conference. He then paused to allow for Chinese translation, and quickly shifted his message towards the Chinese corporate executives present at the event. “Chairman Cao is one of the leading philanthropists in China.”
“Mr. Chairman, Ohio has been through some difficult times, but we are doing better,” said Kasich. “We’re making progress but we still have a very long way to go in our state.”