Chinese textile company Keer Group is investing $65 million to double the capacity of its yarn-spinning facility in Lancaster County, South Carolina, and introducing incentive schemes to curb the mill’s high turnover rate.
The 230,000-square-foot factory, which started shipping cotton yarn in February, is the company’s first manufacturing facility outside of China, representing an initial $218 million investment and plans to create 501 jobs by 2018. The factory currently employs 120 people, but company chairman Zhu Shan Qing recently revealed to China Real Time that he’s had trouble keeping key roles filled with experienced employees.
The center of South Carolina’s once-thriving textile industry, Lancaster County (which lost 11,000 textile jobs to foreign competition between 1995 and 2007) lured the Chinese company in late 2013 with lower cotton prices, proximity to the Port of Charleston and a “capable and ready workforce.”
But skilled labor has since proven to be limited and unreliable. Keer began working with ReadySC last year, South Carolina’s workforce training and development program that comprises all 16 of the state’s technical colleges, but Qing has said that despite receiving new job applications every day, some employees are “not serious” about their positions. To that end, the company will increase hourly wages for each year of employment in the hopes of cultivating expertise.
“Our demands are high,” he told China Real Time. “We need people who know what they’re doing.”
Twenty Chinese companies, including recycled polyester products manufacturer JN Fibers Inc., have invested $669 million in South Carolina since 2000 and employ a total of 3,253, according to the state’s Commerce Department. Keith Tunnell, president of Lancaster County Economic Development Corp., recently told Bloomberg that he’s in talks with four other Chinese companies interested in moving there.