Trans-Pacific View

In the Power Line Business, ‘Made in USA’ Thrives in China 

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Trans-Pacific View

In the Power Line Business, ‘Made in USA’ Thrives in China 

How U.S. companies have found business opportunities in keeping China’s lights turned on.

In the Power Line Business, ‘Made in USA’ Thrives in China 
Credit: Flickr/ black station

In Watertown, South Dakota, Tiffany holds a mini flashlight with her teeth as she inspects an insulated aerial boom. “This will be going to China,” she announces. “When the aerial booms leave here, they spend about eight weeks on the ocean until they arrive in China.” The device she is referring to is an elevating work platform that lifts electrical linemen up from the ground to electrified ‘live’ power lines for maintenance.

Tiffany is one of hundreds of employees at Terex Utilities – a materials lifting and handling company – responsible for building these booms. They will be used by Chinese electrical lineman workers at the State Grid Corporation of China, which provides power to 80 percent of the country, making it the largest electric power transmission and distribution company in the world.

The growing demand for energy in China is helping create jobs in Terex’s home town of Watertown, a small city of 23,000 people. To support these efforts, the U.S. Trade and Development Agency (USTDA) sponsored a reverse trade mission (RTM) in July 2016. The RTM brought a group of 15 delegates from State Grid to tour Terex’s factory and meet other U.S. suppliers of safety equipment for electrical line workers.

This RTM provided an opportunity for State Grid to observe U.S. best practices and U.S. technologies in live wire maintenance. It also allowed Terex and other U.S. companies to establish or enhance relationships with prospective overseas customers.

The agenda featured a training program on the safe maintenance of live power transmission lines at the Southeast Lineman Training Center (SLTC) in Trenton, Georgia. Working with USTDA, STLC developed a one-week customized program to target the delegation’s specific needs. During the second week of the RTM, the delegates visited Terex’s Watertown facility and met with other U.S. suppliers of safety equipment, including 3M, Utility Solutions, Cummins, Altec, and Enercon America.

These businesses were looking forward to meeting with the delegates, as China is the world’s largest power generator. With a growing middle class, China’s electricity demand continues to rise, as more people are using modern appliances such as refrigerators, cell phones, and air conditioners.

Currently during maintenance activity, State Grid Corporation – which operates most of the electricity grid powering China – shuts down segments of the grid that are under construction. Shutting down portions of the grid causes blackouts in the area being served. It is also safer for the linemen to treat all wire as live. In the United States and other countries, line workers are able to conduct maintenance without shutting down any segments of the grid. This visit sought to advance State Grid’s capability through training and exposure to innovative U.S. technologies.

Michael Tilden, International Sales Manager at Terex Utilities, says that there is great market potential for Terex in China. “As State Grid improves its live line work practices, it will drive demand for equipment such as aerial booms, [and] other made in the USA safety equipment such as hot sticks and rubber gloves.”

Jim Lohan, Vice President of International Sales and Marketing at Terex Utilities, says the RTM demonstrates how USTDA’s cooperation with State Grid and U.S. companies is helping support U.S. manufacturing jobs. For Terex, Lohan says that the partnership with USTDA has facilitated conversations at the right level of State Grid “that will help us meet the goals of delivering higher quality power more efficiently in China, keeping their line workers and employees safe, and helping to build Terex’s business here in South Dakota. This shows that with the right approach, there’s a way for U.S. companies to be successful in China.”

Check out a video with scenes from the trip:

Supporting Jobs in South Dakota: China Power Live Line Maintenance RTM from Susan Chan Shifflett on Vimeo.

This piece was previously published by USTDA and is reprinted here with permission.