The GE Appliances "smart warehouse" opened in Commerce June 17. The unit is owned by China-based Haier, which has prioritized making its products close to where they are sold. Provided by GEA

GE Appliances is planning to invest a total of $130 million in Georgia, a win for the state’s Chinese investment efforts despite happening under a storied American brand name. 

Qingdao, China-based appliance giant Haier Group purchased GE’s appliance unit for $5.6 billion in 2016, giving the company a recognizable mark and a huge operational footprint in a country where it has long held a more low-key manufacturing presence. 

Haier had been making mini-refrigerators across the border from Georgia in Camden, S.C., for two decades, but its Georgia presence was largely limited to its logistics operations near the Port of Savannah.

That changed after the acquisition. Haier-owned GE Appliances announced last June that it would put another $55 million warehouse in Commerce, Ga., as Global Atlanta previously reported. The facility was initially slated to open in April  2019but opened its doors June 17. 

Thursday’s news release shed some new light on the technology integrated into the so-called “smart warehouse.” GE Appliances runs its deliveries through an app and operates its own e-commerce platform. Now with centers in Dallas and Denver, GE delivers an appliance every 4 seconds and has the ability to reach 90 percent of the U.S. population within one day.

The center in Commerce will include advances such as big data  coding to catalogue units, forklifts with sensors and a “smart yard” that uses GPS, RFID and other real-time mechanisms to track the location of assets like containers or trailers. Workers are even trained using virtual reality. 

That sounds a lot like the technological upgrade Haier promised when it bought GE Appliances, aiming to drive profitability with a new focus on efficiency. In 2018, the Chinese company has invested $475 million and created more than 2,000 American jobs, countering the narrative that Chinese mergers are detrimental to U.S. workers. 

Thursday’s announcement, circulated by Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp’s office, revealed that the company has even more extensive plans for Georgia. 

Despite fears that a Roper Corp. plant owned by GE Appliances would suffer under new Chinese ownership, a new investment of $43 million will result in 100 new jobs, putting employment at the Walker County plant up over 2,000. Roper will make cooktops, ranges and wall overs under a variety of brands including Monogram, Cafe, GE Profile, and GE, according to a news release.

The last piece of the GE Appliances puzzle is a $32 million investment, also in logistics. A new Southern Logistics Center will be built near the Roper plant as well as the Appalachian Regional Port, a recently opened inland port in northwest Georgia’s Murray County. The facility allows containers to go straight from ship to rail lines to be cleared only after they arrive at the new port 400 miles inland. 

Longtime Haier Chairman Zhang Ruimin has prioritized innovation and has sought to integrate new connected capabilities into both the products and processes of GE since buying the company. He sees the appliances connecting with the rest of the home and providing a portal for e-commerce.

Thanks to Mr. Zhang’s radically decentralized management style, Haier operates as a large company made up of hundreds of small, entrepreneurial business units. As such, Mr. Zhang told the GE staff to “ignore me” after the deal and focus on the end user’s needs. The company remains Louisville, Ky.’s second largest manufacturer with about 6,000 workers making dishwashers, washers and dryers. 

For Georgia, the investment can be seen as another vindication of its strategy to focus on Qingdao, a city seen by many as an unorthodox location for a China recruitment office. 

Now the state has a substantial presence from each of two crosstown giants based there: Hisense, one of the world’s largest TV manufacturers, and Haier, the world’s largest white goods brand. 

The investment comes amid an ongoing trade skirmish between the U.S. and China that has encouraged many Chinese firms to consider setting up shop in the U.S. Washing machines were among the first imported products targeted by President Donald Trump’s tariffs.

Mr. Zhang’s early placement of local manufacturing in the U.S. has helped insulate the company from some of the fallout, as has its decision to buy GE Appliances’ production infrastructure. 

Read more commentary from elected officials in the affected districts, as well as voices from economic development, in the news release here

As managing editor of Global Atlanta, Trevor has spent 15+ years reporting on Atlanta’s ties with the world. An avid traveler, he has undertaken trips to 30+ countries to uncover stories on the perils...