Xiongan is going green with gusto
Proposed modern economic hub makes progress, but winds of change rattle some local companies
It has been one year since the nation announced its plan to develop the Xiongan New Area into a demonstration hub for innovative development, and small local companies, which are often major polluters, are quickening the pace of going green in order to meet strict environmental standards.
On April 1 last year, when Liu Jianhong, president of Xueruisha Feather and Down Product Co, which makes winter wear like down jackets, heard the news about Xiongan, he had no idea whether the plan might affect his company.
The company is in Dazhangzhuang, a village in Anxin county of Baoding, a less-developed region in central Hebei province.
He got some initial idea of what the region would be like from the news.
According to an earlier report by Xinhua News Agency, the Xiongan New Area will have a global perspective and conform with international standards, making it a national model for high-quality development.
Located around 100 kilometers southwest of Beijing, the new area will initially cover 100 square km and later cover Xiongxian, Rongcheng and Anxin counties in Hebei province, eventually taking up 2,000 sq km.
Liu found that his company was located at the very center of the Xiongan New Area. “It was something like hitting a jackpot,” he said. “Something big is going to happen here, bringing new opportunities.”
He thought the influx of more new residents into the region might increase his company’s sales, but later found that an immediate challenge was to adapt to stricter environmental standards. The central government has put protection of the local ecological system high on its agenda.
For the past several decades, the down and feather industry has been pivotal to local economic growth. Local manufacturers of down clothing could easily get raw materials. For example, the source for the soft layer of duck feathers was the nearby Baiyangdian wetland, a region that is home to more than 140 lakes.
Villagers either started businesses at home, worked for local factories or set up small companies to produce down products. But sewage generated during the process was dumped directly into the wetland, damaging the ecological system.
There were 68 small companies and familyowned workshops in the village, but half of them had to shut down because they failed to meet the new environmental standards by the end of last year.
The remaining 34 factories were asked to cut production time by half to reduce pollution — mainly the sewage flowing into Baiyangdian’s lakes.
“Local governments have tightened environmental protection regulations since last year,” says Chen Yue, a villager who closed his familyowned down production workshop last year. “Officials conducted random inspections, and no one dared to restart factories that had to be shuttered.
“Any company that failed to meet the environmental standards or failed to get a license for operations had to shut down. There are no other options. The low-end manufacturing sector won’t be allowed to continue.”
It will not be an easy task for local people to find a new economic driver in the short run, experts say, since the whole province has long relied on resource-dependent industries, falling behind other comparable regions.
Last year, the tertiary sector accounted for 41.7 percent of the total economic output in Hebei province, around 10 percentage points lower than the national average, according to official data.
The indicator was way lower than that of Tianjin and Beijing.
“Moving away from traditional highly polluted industries will be a painful process for enterprises, and yet it is an irreversible trend,” says Chen Jian, vice-president of the China Society of Economic Reform.
Liu’s company is one of the remaining businesses that took timely steps to remake themselves so as not to violate the environmental standards and thus stand a better chance of remaining competitive in the new situation.
He moved production lines to another base in Linyi, Shandong province, that he established in 2010.
The relocation will also help to avoid the rising labor costs in Xiongan, which have almost doubled since last year, Liu says.
He plans to renovate the factory and turn it into a hotel for young talent seeking work in the area.
Part of the space will be turned into a museum to keep alive memories of Anxin county, he adds.
Construction of the Xiongan Citizen Service Center is progressing briskly near Beijing.