The China Strategy of Danville and Pittsylvania, Virginia

"Made in China" is a label we're all used to. The phrase is so commonplace that many Americans actually question our country's ability to compete in a global manufacturing market - just two years after China replaced us as the largest manufacturing country.

What if the label was different? What if the label read, "Made by a Chinese company in Danville/Pittsylvania, Virginia"? With China poised to invest $1 trillion in the U.S. by next year, the City of Danville and County of Pittsylvania in Virginia have joined together under a plan that capitalizes on a portion of those investments by bringing internationally owned manufacturing plants to their soil. As a Danville resident and employee working in the local Dewberry office, I've had the opportunity to assist our community leaders with implementing this plan.

The Upside Down Import-Export Business

The U.S. has steadily relaxed its trade stance with China since placing strict no-trade bans on them during the 1950s. A congressional notice in 2000 granted China permanent normal trade relation status and led to a huge exodus of American-owned manufacturing jobs to the Asian country. By 2005, more than half of all goods imported from China were made by U.S. companies who outsourced production to China.

This situation is poised to flip. The U.S.'s increasing sanctions, tariffs, and anti-dumping clauses with China have evened out the manufacturing playing field. To skirt these new costs, Chinese-owned companies have begun moving their manufacturing activities to U.S. soil. Danville and Pittsylvania recognized this trend in early 2013 and have already made five trips to China explaining why this old textile mill town is the perfect place to put down manufacturing roots.

The Case for This Southeastern Town

Danville and Pittsylvania's heyday was under the old textile- and tobacco-based economy in the southeast. When that economy moved on, so too did 10,000 jobs and 20 percent of the area's population. However, Danville's infrastructure is still set up to support large-scale production and trade. Danville/Pittsylvania is within a day's drive from 60% of the U.S. population; serviced by a network of highways and railways; less than 250 miles from both the Port of Virginia and Washington, D.C.; 75 minutes from international airports; and less than 10 minutes from local one.

Many of the area's industrial parks, like the Berry Hill Industrial Park, have become the focus for development in the hopes of receiving consideration from Chinese industrialists. The sites have been specifically chosen to capitalize on nearby railways, highways, natural gas pipes, and power lines. Dewberry's master plans for the Berry Hill Industrial Park suggest creating new rail spurs to increase transportation efficiency, installing a new pump station, and improving upon existing energy infrastructure.


A Plan Primed to Work

To date, at least three Chinese manufacturing companies have strongly considered this area: GOK Intl., Zeyuan Flooring Intl. Corp., and Tranlin Paper. Together, they would bring 2,400 jobs and billions of dollars in investments to the area they choose to settle in. While none of the companies have set up full-scale operations in Danville and Pittsylvania, the fact that this area was even considered helps the city and county's chances for the next time. Each situation allowed public and private leaders to see exactly what it takes to attract major international manufacturers to small communities along the east coast.

  • Shawn Harden
    Shawn Harden
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