Enter Georgia Chopsticks. Jae Lee, a former scrap-metal exporter, saw an opportunity and began turning out chopsticks for the Chinese market late last year. He and his co-owner, David Hughes, make their chopsticks from poplar and sweet-gum trees, which have the requisite flexibility and toughness, and are abundant throughout Georgia.
In May Georgia Chopsticks moved to larger premises in Americus, a location that offered room to grow, inexpensive facilities and a willing workforce. Sumter County, of which Americus is the seat, has an unemployment rate of more than 12%. Georgia Chopsticks now employs 81 people turning out 2m chopsticks a day. By year’s end Mr Lee and Mr Hughes hope to increase their workforce to 150, and dream of building a “manufacturing incubator” to help foreign firms take advantage of Georgia’s workforce and raw materials.