Oglala Sioux ready to sew up Hong Kong deal

South Dakota State Roundup

Published April 1, 1993  | April 1993 issue

The Oglala Sioux Tribe and a Hong Kong manufacturer of denim clothing are close to signing an agreement that would bring up to 360 new jobs to the Pine Ridge reservation.

Following a two-year search for a U.S. plant location, the Chinese firm selected Pine Ridge because it offers a ready labor force, sufficient water supply and an existing factory building. Those were the company's prime requirements, according to Tribal chairman John Yellowbird Steele.

Steele says the company's representatives are ready to hammer out an agreement. To raise capital and expedite the project, the tribe is working with South Dakota's Revolving Economic Development and Initiative (REDI) Fund, the city of Aberdeen, the Bureau of Indian Affairs and other agencies. While the Hong Kong firm will supply equipment and materials, the tribe will be responsible for providing the factory building, infrastructure improvements and the labor force.

"This is a small pilot project for the Hong Kong company, but it's tremendous for us," Steele says. The company plans to train and hire 120 workers initially but expects to hire third-shift employees within nine months of startup, which would bring total employment to 360.

But it's not just the manufacturing jobs that are important, it's also the company's employee-oriented philosophy, Steele says. The agreement includes a company-subsidized day care center and food service, and transportation assistance will be offered to workers. Also, the company has pledged to be culturally sensitive; for example, employees will have time off for special tribal ceremonies, Steele adds. The added bonus of these programs is the creation of auxiliary jobs.

Currently, the company sells its goods only in other countries, but expansion into the US market is under consideration. If the initial Pine Ridge project proves successful, the company may open a second clothing factory. If that happens, Steele says, there may well be additional jobs for people living in surrounding areas.

And this may be just the beginning. Other Hong Kong clothing and electronics manufacturers also are looking at relocating in the face of the mainland Chinese government assuming control of Hong Kong in 1997.

Kathy Cobb