Kentucky's first major Chinese investment to be Lexington factory

The first major Chinese business investment in Kentucky will be a manufacturer of coal-processing equipment that's expected to open a plant in Lexington early next year.

Birtley, a subsidiary of Shandong Borun Industrial Processing Equipment, will announce plans Wednesday to build a facility off Georgetown Road that will employ 30 to 50 workers.

Birtley U.S.A.'s president, Bing Chen, said he first came to Lexington as part of a Chinese delegation attending the annual Coal Prep industry event at the Lexington Center in 2010.

"Lexington is a beautiful place," Chen said Tuesday through an interpreter. "Personally, I really like Lexington."

The company, which has three manufacturing plants in China, has bought 5.7 acres in the Blue Grass Business Park, which is owned by Commerce Lexington, and expects to build a 67,500-square-foot building. Its investment is expected to total $10 million. Operations are expected to begin in May.

The job types are described as engineers and technicians who will help manufacture the company's products, which include screening and centrifuging machines used in coal preparation. The coal-mining industry has seen cutbacks recently, but Chen emphasized that his company's products benefit from more stringent environmental laws that require coal to be more refined. Also, the company's products are used in other mineral processing; in the power, steel and cement industries; and at ports.

The workers are expected to be paid wages above average for the market, though Chen said he had not finalized the salaries.

Gov. Steve Beshear said in statement that Birtley's coming to the state made for "a historic day in Kentucky."

"We're thrilled to see a company from China locate here, invest in the commonwealth and provide jobs to Kentuckians," Beshear said.

Bob Quick, CEO of Commerce Lexington, said this presents an opportunity for the state to strengthen its relationship with Chinese companies just as the state has in decades past with Japanese businesses.

"Economic development is about building relationships, trust and timing," Quick said. "Having the spotlight on us now because of this investment is important.

"We also need to continue to find other opportunities where we can build this relationship."

Chen emphasized that the city should look to promote itself more. He said he wasn't aware of the investment by foreign companies in the area until he visited.

He said the state should capitalize more on the popularity of the Kentucky Fried Chicken brand in China. Chinese people don't necessarily connect the state with the restaurant, he said, because KFC's name, when translated into Chinese, does not obviously refer to the state. KFC is owned by Yum Brands, which is based in Louisville.

Chen also said he plans to promote his experience here to colleagues in China.

"In China, relationships are important," he said. "If you know someone who has already come to the place, it's easier for the next person to come along."