Pin Ni, president of the American arm of the private Wanxiang Group, an auto parts and renewable energy manufacturer that has close to 6,000 employees in the U.S., said negative views of China and political tensions between the two governments deter some companies. Yet in reality, he said, that's little impediment to doing business.
Ni set up Wanxiang America from a home office in Mount Prospect, Ill., in 1994, essentially as a sales outlet for the parent company. It now has 27 manufacturing facilities across 14 states and annual revenues of more than $2 billion and supplies most of the major American auto manufacturers. He said that only about 10 percent of the parts it supplies in the U.S. are now sourced from China.
"Our labor costs are higher (in the U.S.) but our overall costs are lower because it's more efficient here," he said.
Morrissey, the Rockford mayor, said Wanxiang had acquired a struggling auto parts manufacturer in his city. Attracted by the Chinese company's long-term commitment to the U.S., Rockford chose Wanxiang to develop a $12.5 million solar panel manufacturing plant employing 60 people and a large solar power farm as part of the city's strategy to attract more green business.
Two other major Chinese firms have investments in Rockford, including Dalian Machine Tool Group, which acquired Ingersoll Production Systems and employs 100 people. Rockford is also in talks with Wanxiang about plans to modernize the city center.
"A lot of American cities are completely on the sidelines," said Morrissey, who has made several trade missions to China. "I don't see many cities, especially cities of our size, doing what we are doing, of being proactive and looking to exploit the opportunities there are for Chinese investment."
Joy Huang, president of Connect East, which advises mostly Chinese state-owned enterprises on working in the U.S., said companies want to establish their own brand presence here — something few Chinese firms have achieved, other than appliance-maker Haier and computer-maker Lenovo. She said the main challenge is learning to comply with the many regulations and customizing products for picky American consumers.
Chinese companies are targeting a wide range of industries, also including aerospace, banking, metals processing and plastics. In a sign of those diversifying interests, conglomerate Dalian Wanda Group announced in May it is acquiring cinema chain AMC Entertainment Holdings for $2.6 billion, the biggest Chinese takeover of an American company to date.
Associated Press business writer Joe McDonald in Beijing contributed to this report.
EDITOR'S NOTE _ An occasional look behind the rhetoric in the political campaign.
Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.