Chinese firm creates jobs in Rust Belt county that voted for Trump

Chinese firm brings jobs to the U.S.
Chinese firm brings jobs to the U.S.

A Chinese company is helping revive an Ohio town decimated by industrial decline.

Tree-lined roads in Moraine used to be filled with cars driven by people heading to work at the region's ubiquitous factories. Those factories are now shuttered and rusted. And most of the workers have packed up and left.

"When all those jobs leave, it destroys a town," said Shane Reffett, a local resident who grew up nearby.

President Trump blames trade with China for destroying millions of U.S. manufacturing jobs in recent decades. At a meeting in Florida on Friday, Trump told President Xi Jinping he wanted to see a more balanced relationship on trade.

Related: Trump, Xi have 'candid,' 'positive' talks in Florida

But Chinese money is already providing work for Reffett, and many others in Moraine. He works in a $600 million plant opened in October by Chinese company Fuyao Glass.

Fuyao is one of the world's largest auto glass makers. It says its products are found in a quarter of the cars on the planet. The new Ohio plant is set to supply a resurgent auto industry in Detroit and elsewhere.

moraine auto glass factory
China's Fuyao Glass opened a plant in Moraine in October at the site of a former GM factory.

Reffett is just one of about 2,000 people now working in manufacturing jobs for Fuyao in Moraine. The company says it wants to hire hundreds more.

"Working makes you feel good as a person, makes you feel more complete," said Reffett. "You're needed somewhere."

Related: What American manufacturing looks like in the Trump era

Fuyao is not an isolated example. There's a wave of Chinese money flowing into the U.S.

Chinese direct investment in the U.S. tripled last year to $46 billion, according to the research firm Rhodium Group. And the number of people employed in America by Chinese companies rose by more than 50% to 141,000.

These jobs are certainly needed in Moraine. The Fuyao plant used to be a GM (GM) factory that employed thousands of people making SUVs and trucks. It closed in 2008 as the financial crisis wiped out jobs across the industry.

city of moraine sign
Moraine is a town of just over 6,000 people southwest of Dayton.

Fuyao has invested about $1 billion into its U.S. operations, which also include two smaller plants in Illinois and Michigan.

President Trump has regularly criticized China, calling the country's trade practices unfair and accusing it of stealing millions of American jobs. He says it has kept its currency artificially low to boost its exports.

Related: Trump's constant trashing of China over its currency could backfire

His tough talk resonated with people in Montgomery County, where Fuyao's new plant sits. The county voted narrowly for President Obama in 2008 and 2012, but swung Republican in 2016.

Trump's repeated threats to get tough on trade with China haven't scared off Fuyao's chairman, Cao Dewang, who said he plans to continue to expand in the U.S.

"I'm a businessman and so is Trump," Cao said during an interview with CNN in Beijing in March. "I think his threats are just campaign talk. As long as you make something Americans want, you don't have to worry."

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He said it makes sense for Fuyao to have plants in the U.S. near those of its American customers' factories -- and he thinks U.S. regulations are easier to operate under than China's.

But doing business in the U.S. hasn't been plain sailing for Cao.

Some workers CNN spoke to complained of low pay and safety violations at Fuyao's American operations. They say they want to join a union.

The Chinese company says it's addressing the concerns and plans to stay in Ohio.

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