The China Connection: Georgia's role on the international stage

The China Connection: Georgia's role on the international stage
Chinese business interests in the state are increasing (Source:WALB)
Small businesses are thinking global (Source:WALB)
Small businesses are thinking global (Source:WALB)
Eric Wisham, owner (Source:WALB)
Eric Wisham, owner (Source:WALB)
Tyron Spearman, Spearman Agency (Source:WALB)
Tyron Spearman, Spearman Agency (Source:WALB)
Nico Wijnberg, Global Projects Director (Source:WALB)
Nico Wijnberg, Global Projects Director (Source:WALB)

ALBANY, GA (WALB) - International businesses are cashing in on South Georgia in a big way.

Increasing Chinese investment in the region is beginning to change how companies here see the world and it could end up impacting you.

State data details at least 64 Chinese facilities operating in Georgia. Exports to countries in 2015 totaled $2.6 billion.

Small businesses think big

"This is the actual first lid of the first pepper jelly I made," Eric Wisham, owner of a small jelly manufacturing business, said.

Like many operations, Wisham Jellies in Tifton started small, but flavors have multiplied.

"We've got Pineapple, Peachy Peach and Cranberry, which is our 2015 Flavor of Georgia Winner," Wisham said.

15 states now stock them and the product was just picked up by 143 Publix locations.

"Its pretty mind blowing. Its very exciting," Wisham said. "It's what I was shooting for when I started. Like I said, it was a hobby. Then, I started really getting into it. The sky is the limit. I just keep growing."

The Tifton small business owner admits those aspirations could end up going global, and just down the road from Wisham's shop, they have.

China has its sights set on Georgia.

Peanut exports to China are spiking 

"They are over here trying to buy more now," Tyron Spearman, owner of the peanut marketing group the Spearman Agency, said. "They are a game changer in this peanut world."

Experts said China has shocked the U.S. peanut market.

"The peanut system is kind of closed unless you are a handler or have a sheller," Spearman said. "They've been trying to buy a sheller. They've even been trying to buy some farmers. They had plenty of money it seemed like. They really wanted to get into the peanut business."

Documents containing USDA data on peanut exports provided by Spearman show an enormous spike over the last several years.

In 2014, the Middle Kingdom imported around 14,000 metric tons of peanut products. A year later that figure slumped to around 10,000, but, in 2016, it skyrocketed to more than 170,000 metric tons.

A gargantuan increase of more than 1,500 percent. In comparison, the rest of the exports around the world grew by just around 60 percent during that same time.

"It trickles down to the local economy because the farmers that had some peanuts last year sold them all to China," Spearman said. "The contract price went from $355 to $500 this year."

Spearman said decreasing production and a growing middle class in China helped spur that and, in turn, could change the lives of you and I.

"That five hundred dollars trickles down to buying cars and buying groceries," Spearman said. "As, the farm economy gets better for peanuts, the local economy is going to be better too."

State leaders develop relationships 

It's a relationship state leaders in Atlanta have identified as valuable.

"Well, China of course is such a large economy," Nico Wijnberg, the Global Projects Director at the Georgia Department of Economic Development, said. "It's a place you simply have to be in."

Not only does the Georgia Department of Economic Development connect importers and exporters from all reaches of the globe, but it promotes foreign direct investment right here in the Peach State.

"Japan, South Korea and then China, which is where we, as I mentioned, have an office," Wijnberg said.

From those outposts, representatives generate leads and convince businesses to come to Georgia.

State leaders said the work they do with China is increasing.

"The products are more sophisticated, the leadership is more sophisticated," Wijnberg said. "Now is a very good time to remain present and active."

They add its paying off.

A Chinese Owned peanut processing plant called Farmax Merchandise announced, in March, it would develop further facilities in Crisp County, creating up to 30 jobs.

Chinese-owned manufacture Century Tire is expected to create around 1000 jobs over the next five years.

"What's most important is that these are very good skilled jobs that they are looking for," Wijnberg said.

State leaders said that's something investors have noticed Georgia's technical college programs can fill, better than other states.

Those things that make South Georgia and its people special are a reason businesses as far as China and just down the street are cashing in with global aspirations to grow markets and possibly connect with each other.

"To the top," Wisham said, related to his jelly company. "That's my goal. To expand, keep growing and keep adding new flavors."

New flavors that, despite the number of stamps on their passports, will always taste like home.

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