Coca-Cola “has a long history and a bright name,” says Yingkou resident Yang You, a member of the company’s newest generation of employees in China. Many of her friends in Yingkou, she says, drink Coca-Cola products “just like my grandpa drinks tea in the morning; like my mother drinks milk in the evening.”
You was front and center at recent opening ceremonies for the company’s new Yingkou plant in her native Liaoning Province. The 42-acre (170,000 square meter) plant, Coca-Cola’s largest production facility in China and its forty-second in the country, is part of the company's three-year, $4 billion investment plan in China — the organization’s fastest-growing beverage market and the fourth largest soft drink market in the world.
Coca-Cola has been a part of China’s modern history since the 1920s. It was also one of the first American companies to reenter China in 1979, soon after the two countries normalized diplomatic relations. Since that time, the company has invested more than $5 billion in the Chinese market, and now employs more than 50,000 people in China — the majority of whom, like You, are local hires.
You’s enthusiasm for her new work is palpable. “I am so excited,” she says. “It is a brand-new factory; everything is new and full of challenges. It is also a brand-new stage for young people. To me, it is a new world.”
More Development, More Chances
It’s also a new world of opportunity for many Chinese people working with Coca-Cola. The Liaoning facility directly created 500 jobs and generated about 5,000 opportunities in supporting industries. “This new Coca-Cola plant is a welcome addition to our local economy,” says Xue Heng, Liaoning Province’s vice governor. “It will create new job opportunities for local workers and introduce new technology to foster industrial development and modernization for Liaoning Province.”
“For the community it means development,” says You. “It provides more work chances for Yingkou people.”
Those thoughts are echoed by Coca-Cola chairman and CEO Muhtar Kent, who was welcomed by You and her new colleagues at the March opening of the Yingkou bottling plant. Investment in China, he says, “is part of our long-term commitment to invest in innovation, partnerships and a portfolio that will enable us to grow our business in a sustainable and responsible way.”
Growing that business in China also means helping local employees adjust to Coca-Cola's business procedures. “I feel comfortable working in an American company,” says You. In her role as plant manager assistant, she communicates daily with every department in the Yingkou facility, dealing with issues related to production, water usage, warehouse, distribution and human resources. “It is a chance for me to practice on every different area [of my responsibilities],” she notes, “and I am happy to be a multiskilled worker.”
Part of the Landscape
The new plant is a welcome addition to the continued industrial development of northeastern China — as well as Coca-Cola’s continued expansion across the country. "This new investment to Yingkou is also aligned with the government's call to develop the Bohai Bay Economic Zone areas,” says Martin Jansen, CEO of Coca-Cola Bottling Investments Group China, “and to strengthen our distribution system, especially amongst [China’s] second- and third-tier cities."
Coca-Cola logos in Chinese and English are part of the landscape in Yingkou, like elsewhere in China. And You says people consider the beverages an important part of their daily lives. Her younger sister even compared them to her pet dog, Lily. “She said, 'If today I haven’t had Coca-Cola at school, I will miss it just like missing Lily.'”
For her part, You has fond memories of the Yingkou plant opening ceremony, where she sang, took photographs and had lunch with Kent, who “also gave us warm hugs like friends. I am happy to work here and eager to work here forever.”