Chinese firm may scrap Elkridge cashmere plant

October 04, 1994|By Mark Guidera | Mark Guidera,Sun Staff Writer

Wang Zi Cashmere Products, an apparel company that had planned to eventually employ as many as 200 for a manufacturing and distribution operation in Elkridge, is reconsidering whether to create many of those jobs.

"We are re-evaluating what direction to take," said Sally Freedenthal, merchandise manager for Wang Zi's U.S. operations. "We want to investigate having a domestic knitter in the U.S. handle the [manufacturing] work."

The company had hoped to have production of its cashmere products under way at the plant by this time and to have embarked on an aggressive retail store expansion with a goal of opening 50 stores by 1997. The manufacturing site in Maryland was expected to boost U.S. sales from $2.7 million in 1993 to about $4 million this year. Wang Zi saw the Elkridge operation as a way not only to tap into the U.S. cashmere market, but also as a base from which to manage its planned retail growth.

Wang Zi's hiring and expansion plans have been delayed, however, because the company was unable to obtain temporary visas for five company workers employed at its plant in China to come to the United States, said Ms. Freedenthal.

Richard Story, executive director of the Howard County Economic Development Authority, which had helped lure Wang Zi to the county, said he planned to talk with company officials to see what his office could do to assist in implementing the company's original hiring plan.

"It's no loss to our manufacturing base, since nothing that existed was lost. But it does sound like a lost opportunity. We'll certainly want to know what we can do to keep them on track with their original goals," said Mr. Story.

The Chinese-owned company, which established its U.S. headquarters at the Elkridge plant in August 1993, also has put on hold until next year part of its plan to open several new Touch of Cashmere retail stores in the Baltimore-Washington area, including one planned for Towson, said Ms. Freedenthal.

The company, owned by Chinese businessman Wang Jian Guo, had planned to stock its retail stores with clothing made at the Elkridge plant. Currently the company is stocking the three retail store it has opened in the United States with merchandise imported from Wang Zi's China plant.

The company had sought the visas because it wanted skilled Chinese employees to train Americans to properly operate cashmere knitting machines at a 30,000-square-foot manufacturing and distribution plant in the Route 100 Business Park in Elkridge. Wang Zi wanted visas that would allow the workers to stay in this country for up to six months. The company began seeking the visas last year shortly after opening the Elkridge plant.

The U.S. Consulate in Shenyang, China, denied the visa requests because Wang Zi had improperly described the type of work the Chinese workers would do at the Elkridge operation, said Nyda Bundig, a spokeswoman with the U.S. Consular Affairs Office in Washington. Wang Zi said on its application that the workers would be installers; the correct description should have been operators, said Ms. Bundig.

Mr. Story said he had never seen a foreign-owned company in Maryland encounter so much difficulty getting worker visas for employees needed from the home operation.

The visa requests expired on Sept. 1. Ms. Freedenthal said the company has decided not to reapply for them. It is looking instead into the possibility of hiring a U.S. knitting operation to make cashmere apparel with Chinese yarn.

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