Factories in Xiongan economic zone set eyes on improved productivity
XIONGAN NEW AREA, Hebei - There are two types of factories at Life Lamps company: the hot, noisy and cumbersome; and the clean, quiet and automated.
Baoding Life Automotive Lighting Group is located in suburban Rongcheng county in Hebei province. Rongcheng is one of the three counties in what is set to become China's latest new economic zone - Xiongan. The other two counties are Xiongxian and Anxin.
Contrasting production lines of the automotive lamp maker show the transition that many companies in the area have to make in the future: shifting from low-level manufacturing to smart technologies and increased productivity.
At an older workshop, where incandescent lamps are made, metal molds shuffle up and down, spewing fire to shape glass bulbs. Workers have to take a break every few hours to escape the noise. One of the machines suddenly stops, and workers scramble to unravel the entangled wires.
The LED lamp production lines, however, look postindustrial. Young workers wearing white robes like those of doctors enter procedures into computers and wait for machines to finish an electric circuit on its own.
"Xiongan is the best news for us. We are looking closely at its policies. It will definitely become easier for us to hire more smart engineers and eventually become an industry leader," he said.
The area's current level of development is low. Cable and plastic industries in Xiongxian, shoemaking and down feathers in Anxin, and men's garments in Rongcheng - these industries started to take root in the 1980s.
Over 450 million sports suits, jackets, windbreakers and pants were made in Rongcheng last year with a total value of 25.6 billion yuan (.7 billion).
Like most small Chinese counties, Xiongxian, Anxin and Rongcheng need to transform from their role as factories of the nation, and even the world. Rising labor costs have made it difficult for factory owners to recruit workers. The environment can no longer be sacrificed for economic growth.
An Xiaoming, 45, hires five dozen workers at his down feather factory in Anxin county, on the banks of the Baiyangdian, a large lake. He needs a large amount of water to wash the feathers before drying, grinding and packing them into jackets and selling them to retailers. He sells 1,400 metric tons of feathers every year.
"The new area will not be a place for companies like mine, which use lots of water and pollute the environment. I've seen it coming, even if there were no Xiongan, as environmental pollution in our industry is a big problem," An said.
"But I want to continue to do this, maybe somewhere else in an industrial park, and in a more environmentally friendly way," he said.
Many experts say Xiongan must harness technology to become a new magnet for growth like Shenzhen, which gathers China's most competitive companies such as Huawei and drone maker DJI Technologies.
"First and foremost is to move certain industries, such as technological companies in Zhongguncun, to Xiongan," said Xu Kuangdi, former mayor of Shanghai, and director of an expert panel for the coordinated development of Beijing-Tianjin-Hebei. Xu oversaw the development of Pudong in the 1990s.
"Beijing and Tianjin are too fat, with a very serious big city malaise. Compared with the two cities, Hebei is in free fall, way behind in economic and social development," Xu said.
Rebalancing resources among the three places is needed urgently. Xu said industrial policies for Xiongan should be made "according to local situations."
"Existing industries should be consolidated and upgraded. Employment for the people must be safeguarded," he said.