ROBERT SIEGEL, Host:
Philip Graitcer has the story.
PHILIP GRAITCER: In a mostly vacant industrial park in the small city of Americus, a new company is manufacturing, of all things, chopsticks for export to China.
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GRAITCER: On the factory floor of Georgia Chopsticks, a worker watches as a machine stamps out the disposable eating utensils. Company president Jae Lee says business is good.
JAY LEE: Right now, like, we are making about two million pairs of chopsticks per day. But like, we are increasing. End of this year, we'll produce 10 million per day.
GRAITCER: Besides wood, Americus has something else in abundance: People. Once a manufacturing center, the city lost those jobs in the 1970s when companies relocated overseas. Now, Jae Lee is hiring.
LEE: When I checked, like Americus, they have like a 12 percent unemployment rate. In China, everybody believe like, you know, labor cost is cheap. But I believe, like, our quality is much better in the U.S.
GRAITCER: When Georgia Chopsticks opened at the end of last year, it received 450 job applications in just two weeks. Today, 57 people are employed at the factory, and Lee hopes to hire a hundred more workers by the end of the year.
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GRAITCER: Susan White just started working at Georgia Chopsticks. She thinks it's great to turn the tables and make something that's sold in China.
SUSAN WHITE: The first thing I thought about what everybody else thinks, you know, everywhere you see in America it says made from China. And, you know, you wonder if in China they ever see made from America.
GRAITCER: Business leaders are paying attention. David Garriga heads the local Economic Development Council. He says the American connection to the chopstick trade is ironic.
DAVID GARRIGA: Suddenly here's a huge nation and the fastest growing in the world, that finances part of our national debt, and here we are making their basic products and ship it to them, like they've done for us for years. It's just kind of a reverse.
GRAITCER: For NPR News, I'm Philip Graitcer in Atlanta.
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