Georgia Firm Exports Chopsticks to China

December 6, 2011 14:00 pm

by Ken · 10 comments

While we are still working on sending coals to Newcastle and on selling ice to Eskimos, an Americus, Georgia, business is happily selling chopsticks to China and Japan. China has a shortage of trees and the southeastern United States has always had those. All that was required was an entrepreneur and a chopstick manufacturing plant. CNN Money has the story:

Map of Georgia highlighting Sumter County

Sumter County, GA Image via Wikipedia

Jae Lee, a U.S. citizen originally from South Korea, says his company is America’s only chopsticks manufacturer and exports them to China and Japan.

Lee started Georgia Chopsticks earlier this year in a town called Americus, population 17,000. He said that his 102 employees can’t keep up with demand from hungry Asians. As a result, he has plans to expand dramatically, hiring an additional 800 workers next year.

Thank Vladimir Putin’s Russia for the opportunity. Russia increased its timber export tax from five percent to 25 percent, creating a profitable opening for Lee, who exports 100% of his product.

In 1997, China declared a moratorium on logging its dwindling supply of domestic trees. When Lee learned of this and Russia’s increased export tax, he decided to launch Georgia Chopsticks to meet China’s demand for the disposable eating utensils. The company, only in business since April, produces four million sets of chopsticks per week.

Lee has plans to increase his product line to related niche products such as tongue depressors and toothpicks. Current demand is so strong that Lee is already considering five additional plants.


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Cassandra December 6, 2011 at 2:02 pm

Best inspirational business article of the year!

I Miss the 90s December 6, 2011 at 2:14 pm

This really is an awesome story.

This is one of those reasons why optimistic liberals like Warren Buffet, George Soros and myself always tell the rest of the world not to bet against the United States of America (ultimately the source of the praise is that America is an open society).

Jae Lee may be the US Businessman of the Year.

Ken December 6, 2011 at 2:24 pm

I agree that it is a great story.

Putin was just allegedly re-elected, so the export tariff is unlikely to change soon. That event would be the only potential problem I see for Lee’s business strategy.

I wonder, where do US chopsticks come from? Lee has the only chopstick manufacturing plant in the US, so we’re importing them from somewhere.

OleDirtyBarrister December 6, 2011 at 4:42 pm

There is more than one threat to a business like that.

One is disruptive technology. Suppose the Chinese discover forks and spoons. Game over.

Another option is synthetic chopsticks–just wash them in soap and hot water and reuse them. Some restaurants around Atlanta use plastic units and they work just fine. Almost as well as forks and spoons.

If wooden chopsticks remain the utensil of choice, then another threat is the relatively low barrier to entry for prospective competitors. How hard is it to cut and mill small pieces of wood into smaller pieces of wood? I can think of several hardwood sawmills south and east of Macon, south of I-16, and eat of I-75 that might be good sources of wood and provide cheap ground leases to consumers of their output.

David Staples December 9, 2011 at 9:50 am

I thought the chopsticks were made from Pine? I would think hardwood is a bit too valuable to make chopsticks, unless the chopstick guy is using scraps?

David Staples December 9, 2011 at 9:51 am

Nevermind, just read the Time article… Poplar and Sweetgum.

CobbGOPer December 6, 2011 at 2:24 pm

What I don’t get is why the Chinese don’t just use more bamboo instead of wood for chopsticks. I guess it’s an aesthetic thing. But if they just used more bamboo, then the tree problem becomes a non-issue, and they would pay less (not having to import Georgian chopsticks and all).

I have a great deal of experience with Asian cultures – I even lived in China for a while, so I use chopsticks like a native – but for the life of me I couldn’t tell you why they prefer real wood chopsticks to bamboo (for disposables that is).

benevolus December 6, 2011 at 4:54 pm

Nobody said a dang thing when I mentioned this back in August.
It’s enough to give a guy a complex.
But it’s OK. I don’t care.

Ken December 6, 2011 at 7:13 pm

Agreed. You deserve props for the original mention and the original link: in Time.

Engineer December 9, 2011 at 10:56 am

I knew I wasn’t the only one that remembered seeing this story back in the summer.

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