Mayor Jim Thomas said his recent trip to China may bear fruit in a year or two. Thomas and Liberty County Development Authority CEO Ron Tolley went to Wuhan, China, on Oct. 14-20 for the third annual China Global Automotive Forum.
Thomas said Wuhan, a city of about 12 million people, is the center of China’s automotive manufacturing industry. He said Wuhan is in a desert region about 700 miles from Beijing, a city of about 16 million. China’s population is about 1.3 billion.
“I went there as one of the guest speakers and to see if we could recruit Chinese industries to come here to Liberty County,” Thomas said. “The thing I talked about was urbanization and the proper balance of transportation and infrastructure ... (Automobile manufacturing) is a very lucrative industry. In a very short period of time, China will be the world’s largest auto-manufacturing country.”
China already has several American automotive plants, including General Motors, Ford and Chrysler, he said. He added that China owns Volvo and Saab, although they don’t currently have any plants in China.
Leaders from 20 countries attended this year’s forum that included 84 speakers over two days. Thomas said the trip afforded him an opportunity to talk with government and business leaders from all over the world.
Before the forum, Thomas and Tolley attended a private dinner in Beijing with officials from the China Association of Automotive Manufacturers, the China Machinery Industry Federation and the China Heat Treatment Association. He said he was somewhat surprised that the heat treatment association represents automotive parts manufacturers.
China is trying to develop both its automotive industry and automotive parts industry, according to the mayor. It’s the automotive parts industry he’s trying to recruit to Liberty County.
Thomas said Chinese automotive parts manufacturers are looking for a distribution point close to a port from which they can distribute their parts for Chinese cars imported by the United States. The Chinese are trying to find venues to send and ship cars and car parts.
“If China wants to export their cars to us, we recommend the port of Brunswick,” Thomas said. “Most people don’t know it, but 60 percent of all the automobiles imported in the U.S. come through the port at Brunswick. Having a distribution point here means they would hire Americans. They would hire people in Liberty County.”
He said manufacturing companies are looking to come here because of the county’s proximity to Brunswick’s port and because they know they can get a good, drug-free workforce. That gives Liberty County a competitive advantage, and it’s why city and county leaders are trying to recruit companies to come here, Thomas said.
He noted that despite the growth in Chinese industry, all is not well with the Chinese economy. He said the country essentially has to maintain a high level of business expansion, manufacturing production and building projects. When the Chinese government began its industrial development, it forced millions of rural people off their farms. They had nowhere to go and nothing to do, so the government put them to work in factories making products that Chinese people can’t afford to buy. Others work on building projects for offices or apartment buildings no one can afford to rent.
Thomas said the Chinese cars appear to be solid, well-built cars, but they have to find markets overseas because the cars are priced well above what the average Chinese laborer can afford.
He said the biggest concern the state-run automotive industry leaders have is finding a way to limit their liabilities. Thomas believes that when they find their “niche,” the number of imported Chinese cars and automotive parts will increase. Hopefully, Liberty County will benefit from that expansion with a Chinese car parts distribution point located right here, he said.