China-based bearing manufacturer HCH Bearing Americas opened its first U.S. location in Miami but ultimately settled on Jacksonville as its permanent U.S. home base. The move to Jacksonville in May 2012 brought the company closer to more of its customers, says Douglas Robbie, general manager of the Americas operation. “If you draw a 500-mile box from Jacksonville around the country, you probably touch 70% of the new manufacturing in the United States,” he points out.
From its six-person Jacksonville distribution center, the company serves manufacturers and distributors in the U.S., Mexico, Canada and parts of South America. Its clients include Panasonic, Audi, Bosch and General Electric, and its ball bearings are used in everything from appliances and automobiles to industrial tools and escalators.
Robbie expects to open additional offices in Texas and Indiana during the next six months, but the company is working on a deal to have its products enter the U.S. through JaxPort. Currently, the bearings are shipped from New Jersey. “I did a study of Charleston, Savannah, Jacksonville and Miami,” Robbie says. PortMiami was ultimately too busy to serve the company’s needs; Savannah was “choked by the auto industry;” and Charleston couldn’t take the kinds of ships that bring HCH’s products over from China. Jacksonville has five ships a week coming in from China, and Ningbo — where HCH’s products ship from — is one of Jacksonville’s “Friendship Cities.” Robbie feels that the combination means the company can quickly deliver products.
China has become Florida’s No. 4 trading partner and its top import market. The value of goods imported from China into Florida ports rose 10% between 2011 and 2012, to $8.1 billion.
There are as many as 200 Chinese companies in Florida, estimates Manny Mencia, senior vice president of international trade and business development at Enterprise Florida. Most are small trading companies.
HCH Bearing is a subsidiary of China Huanchi Bearing Group, one of China’s largest privately owned companies and its largest manufacturer of small and medium-sized ball bearings.