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International Relation

Interview: Southeastern U.S. county hopes to expand collaboration with China: local official

December 06, 2019


Abstract : Ballard County in the southeastern U.S. state of Kentucky welcomes more Chinese businesses to land so as to boost the local economy, a local official has said.

WICKLIFFE, the United States, Dec. 5 (Xinhua) -- Ballard County in the southeastern U.S. state of Kentucky welcomes more Chinese businesses to land so as to boost the local economy, a local official has said.

"We have open arms. We can be very excited at anything you can do to help us bring jobs to our local people," Todd Cooper, judge-executive of Ballard County told Xinhua in a recent interview.

The Bluegrass State's business friendly climate and a hardworking workforce in the local community would be conductive to investors who would like to explore their opportunities in the area, said Cooper, who has been working in the county government since 1990.

"We have what's called southern hospitality. We want to help companies if they come to our area to start a business or expand their business," he said.

The county chief said attracting investment to facilitate economic development and job creation, is crucial to the local community, which had experienced years of business slack.

"We've had a downturn. We had lost jobs for 12 straight years at one point," said Cooper, adding brain drain also posed a challenge as the region's young talents tend to leave, seeking better opportunities in urban areas.

"Starting in 2018 through now, we've reversed that trend. And I will say it's because of the Chinese investment," said the county official.

"It's been amazing to see what's happened in the last fifteen months," he said, referring to the county's highlighted projects in the paper industry and fishery, fueled by Chinese business acumen.

In 2018, Phoenix Paper, owned by Chinese manufacturer Shanying International, purchased an idled paper mill in Wickliffe, county seat of Ballard. With employees completing the first roll of bleached hardwood pulp this May, Phoenix Paper has officially started operation at the Wickliffe facility.

In August, the company announced its plan to invest another 200 million U.S. dollars to construct a new paper-and-pulp recycling facility. The new investment, on top of its original 150-million-dollar investment, is on its way to creating 500 jobs in the rural community.

"We're so excited and so appreciative of the partnerships and the opportunities (that) have come through the Chinese investment," said Cooper.

Also, the county official said "it's been neat to see" that International Fisheries Industrial Park in the county developed by multiple Chinese investors is making headway since its launching ceremony this April.

He is hopeful that the new business cluster would help bring in more Chinese companies to establish their presence.

The industrial park, dedicated to Asian carp processing, is expected to create at least 150 full-time jobs and many indirect and part-time work for fishermen and construction companies, according to the Kentucky Cabinet for Economic Development.

The existing U.S.-China collaborated commercial projects in the area were made possible due to tremendous efforts by both sides, noted Cooper, especially the Kentucky officials' continuous endeavor to market the state in China and recruit investment despite the protracted trade rifts at the national level.

Statistics from local economic authorities showed that Chinese-owned companies operating in Kentucky currently employ nearly 9,000 people.

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Keyword: China-U.S. Kentucky collaboration

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