To understand the economic changes that have swept the U.S. for the past two decades would take a bigger investment in time and study than the average person can manage. But for a quick look at the basic themes, you could do worse than to simply watch the two-hour Netflix documentary “American Factory.”
Produced by a company founded by Barack and Michelle Obama, “American Factory” tells the story of a Chinese-owned glass factory in a suburb of Dayton, Ohio. Rocked by the closure of a General Motors plant during the Great Recession, Moraine, Ohio, is just one more dying Rust Belt town. So when Fuyao Glass Industry Group Co., one of the world’s largest automotive glass makers, decided to open a plant there in 2014 on the site of the old GM factory, the town welcomes it with open arms.
This is actually the reverse of the usual economic relationship between the U.S. and China. Although money tends to flow from China to the U.S. on net, most of this reflects Chinese government purchases of U.S. bonds; when it comes to building factories, it’s usually American and other multinational companies trying to take advantage of low Chinese labor costs and gain access to the promising Chinese market. But Cao Dewang, Fuyao’s billionaire founder, decides to make glass in the U.S. for reasons of his own.