By Joe Vardon
Gov. John Kasich told a Chinese businessman who has pledged to create 800 jobs at a shuttered auto plant near Dayton that "this is going to be one of your greatest philanthropic but also business investments."
Fuyao Glass Industry Group chairman Cao Dewang signed an agreement to locate an auto-glass manufacturing operation and invest $200 million into the former General Motors plant in Moraine that had been closed since 2008. The agreement was signed this morning at a Statehouse ceremony involving the property owner and Kasich.
Kasich said Fuyao's investment would be the 9th largest Chinese investment in the United States, likely would represent the largest Chinese investment in Ohio, and potentially the largest Chinese investment in the auto industry in America.
The governor also paused every sentence or two so an interpreter could repeat what Kasich said to Dewang in Mandarin, and through that same interpreter Dewang said he has "some concerns" about his Ohio investment because competitors with a more diverse portfolio had higher profit margins.
The deal is contingent upon the approval of state and local financial incentives for Fuyao, as well as possible financial aid from JobsOhio, the privatized development agency that brokered the deal. JobsOhio declined to disclose the value of any state or JobsOhio-provided incentives because negotiations with Fuyao are ongoing.
Both Kasich and Dewang also seemed to acknowledge an uneasiness among Americans toward the Chinese that at minimum rears its head through American politics. It was a key issue of the 2012 presidential campaign in Ohio was whether President Barack Obama had done enough to combat Chinese product-dumping practices, and last year organized labor criticized then-Toledo Mayor Mike Bell for seeking Chinese investment in the city.
"China and America are two great powers in this world," Kasich said. "We search for understanding between our two nations, the ability to conduct trade, to develop friendships, to share many common-held values ... I am very excited about the fact that we have taken a big step forward between China and America in developing greater understanding, greater appreciation and greater friendship."
Dewang said: "We will manage our company in compliance with state and local regulations as well as the local customs. We will use our sincerity to seek understanding and a better appreciation (of) the local community."
Dewang said the company would begin hiring managers in May and making manufacturing hires by the end of this year, with a target date for production in June of 2015. In a news release, JobsOhio had offered a later timeline.
Fuyao would buy more than 1 million square feet of the old plant, now owned by Industrial Realty Group. Stu Lichter, leader of the California-based property owner, called Fuyao "the big fish" tenant for the property.
Fuyao's customers include Honda, General Motors, and Hyundai, Dewang said, adding, "This investment is actually due to the demand of our customers, they believe we should be here."
U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, and U.S. Rep. Mike Turner, R-Dayton, all released statements praising the deal.
"Bringing life back to this plant is not only a great thing for the residents of the Miami Valley, it shows what can happen when a community rallies behind a project and brings diverse stakeholders to the table," said Brown, who has criticized the Obama administration for not being tough enough with the Chinese over trade policy.