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Pennsylvania’s First Chinese Manufacturer Celebrates One Year in Lehigh Valley, Plans to Expand

By Colin McEvoy on May 26, 2016

Pennsylvania’s first and only Chinese manufacturer celebrated its first year of production at its Lehigh Valley facility on May 26, and company officials said they intend to expand and possibly begin developing a wider variety of products there in the future.

Fuling Plastics, China’s largest manufacturer of plastic tableware and kitchenware, invited members of the Lehigh Valley business community and media for a tour of its 88,000 square-foot facility in Upper Macungie Township, which produces plastic straws for four of the top five fast food restaurants in the world.

Xinfu Hu, CEO of Fuling Global, who flew in from China to participate for the tour, said he has found the Pennsylvania and Lehigh Valley business communities to be extremely helpful and receptive, and he believes other Chinese companies have taken notice.

“They are very interested in following in our footsteps to bring their businesses here,” Hu said through an interpreter. “If we continue to be successful here, we are very willing to refer Pennsylvania and the Lehigh Valley to the businesses in China and the Zhejiang province.”

The event was also attended by Pennsylvania Lieutenant Governor Mike Stack and by Don Cunningham, President and CEO of the Lehigh Valley Economic Development Corporation (LVEDC), which played a major role in recruiting Fuling Plastics to the Lehigh Valley.

Cunningham called the Fuling Plastics facility the hallmark of an “explosion of international investment” in the Lehigh Valley. Eight of the region’s 19 major business attraction or expansion projects in 2015 – or 42 percent — were from overseas companies.

“This switches the paradigm around,” Cunningham said. “For so long in the U.S. there has been concern about American manufacturing moving to Asia, but the willingness and economics of Chinese manufacturers to be willing to come closer to the customer base here on the East Coast, make product here, and distribute out of this very accessible market is a wonderful development for American workers and for the American economy.”

Before settling on the Lehigh Valley, Fuling had considered sites in North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia, Maryland, and New Jersey, as well as five locations in Pennsylvania. Fuling officials said they ultimately chose the Lehigh Valley because of its central location, convenient transportation, strong support network, public security, and the cooperation of local officials in making the project happen.

“We have really experienced a smooth process and received a lot of help and support,” Hu said. “This (Lehigh Valley) location is very convenient. It is very easily accessible by all sorts of transportation, and there are many skillful workers and highly-trained professionals in this area. We were able to start up a business here without any problems.”

The Upper Macungie Township facility currently employs 40 workers, which is expected to double in the next year. The plant manufactures at least 500 straws each minute for such companies as Burger King, Wendy’s, Subway, and Kentucky Fried Chicken, said plant manager Kevin Monahan.

It has been roughly one year since construction on the Lehigh Valley plant concluded, and Fuling Plastics CFO Gilbert Lee said the company has already generated more than 400 million straws, enough to go around the world one-and-a-half times if placed side-by-side.

The plant is currently running 12 production lines for producing straws, Monahan said, but plans to expand to 18 some time next year. Fuling Plastics plans to add additional pieces of equipment to develop other products in the Lehigh Valley in the future, like plastic takeout containers and cups.

Plastic utensils and cutlery are currently manufactured in China and shipped into the United States, Monahan said, but straws are so light it does not make economic sense to ship them such long distances.

The straws are created from polypropylene pellets, which are extruded and heated to a liquid form, stretched out into a long tube, and then subjected to a vacuum process so it will not collapse back into a ribbon, Monahan said. It is then cooled and cut to the proper length.

Fuling Plastics was awarded LVEDC’s International Project of the Year award last year, and raised more than $20 million during its initial public offering on Nasdaq in November 2015. The company was recently featured on NPR’s flagship news program “All Things Considered,” which also included an interview with Cunningham.

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