An Ohio economic development agency worked with a Chinese-owned company identified as a potential national security risk to establish a facility in the state, according to communications reviewed by the Daily Caller News Foundation.

JobsOhio is a private economic development corporation funded by money from the JobsOhio Beverage System (JOBS), which has an exclusive 25-year franchise from the state of Ohio to sell liquor. The organization worked directly with Fufeng USA, the subsidiary of China-based Fufeng Group, to help the company find a possible site for a major facility in Ohio in May 2023.

JobsOhio made overtures to local officials about possibly bringing Fufeng USA into their community just months after the U.S. Air Force stated that Fufeng USA’s plans to build a plant in North Dakota would constitute a “significant threat to national security,” according to an email obtained exclusively by the Daily Caller News Foundation.

 

Fufeng USA is a bio-fermentation company that specializes in supplements for livestock feed, according to its website. Its parent company, Fufeng Group, is a massive bio-fermentation company that has ties to the Chinese Communist Party (CCP).

Matthew Davis, an official who identified himself as from “RGP Northwest Ohio/JobsOhio,” contacted two officials from Paulding County about possibly siting Fufeng USA’s facility in or near Defiance, Ohio, on May 31, 2023. Regional Growth Partnership (RGP) is an economic development organization that focuses on Northwest Ohio and works in partnership with JobsOhio.

“The RGP and JobsOhio are working directly with Fufeng USA who has expressed interest in the Northwest Ohio as potential location for a ‘Corn Wet Milling and Biofermentation Plant,’” Davis wrote. “Please note this is a Chinese company that was set to commence operations for this facility in North Dakota, which fell through.”

“We would encourage you to do your own due diligence on the company and their proposed project,” Davis’ message continues. “Prior to engaging this prosect (sic) any further, we are asking your team to take a collective look at this opportunity and determine if this operation would be a fit in Defiance and if you would like to pursue.”

JobsOhio Fufeng Email (Reda… by Nick Pope

Davis’ email also included details about how many acres the company tentatively wanted for its plant, its expected utility needs and the approximate amount of investment the facility would draw.

“RGP did not pitch this company, they reached out to JobsOhio who shared the lead to assess potential site opportunities in RGP,” a spokesperson for RGP told the DCNF. “JobsOhio has processes in place to vet every company before a lead moves to a project. This lead did not move forward.”

The RGP spokesperson also added context to Davis’ contention that “RGP and JobsOhio are working directly with Fufeng USA.”

“This use was to indicate JobsOhio was communicating with a company representative and not a site selector from a third party. The nature of that work was to understand what the company was looking for,” the RGP spokesperson told the DCNF. “Separate from that work with the company, JobsOhio was also conducting their due diligence on the company to assess viability.”

“JobsOhio exists to help companies and Ohioans thrive and was following up on a lead, so we and our network partner were working with Fufeng to understand its identity, compliance with U.S. federal regulations, and project requirements,” a JobsOhio spokesperson told the DCNF. “After doing this diligence, a decision was made not to pursue the lead.”

Fufeng USA’s plans to establish a plant in North Dakota “fell through” after officials in Grand Forks, North Dakota, effectively killed the project by declining any of the necessary permits needed to actually build the facility, according to The New York Times.

The company’s proposed factory would have been within approximately 20 minutes from a U.S. Air Force installation involved in sensitive drone technology, according to CNBC.

Fufeng USA’s links to China and the CCP via its parent company prompted the Department of the U.S. Air Force to express its “unambiguous view”  that the company’s plan to establish operations in North Dakota presented “a significant threat to national security with both near- and long-term risks of significant impacts to our operations in the area” in January 2023. The Air Force assessment was issued several months before Davis reached out to PCED to assess the possibility that Fufeng USA would build a facility in Defiance.

Fufeng Group Founder and Chairman Li Xuechun was a member of the 11th and 12th National Committee of Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC), according to Fufeng Group’s 2020 Annual Report. The CPPCC is a central pillar of the United Front Word Department (UFWD), a CCP organ identified in 2018 by the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission as being responsible for influence and intelligence operations.

The 2020 annual report also states that Li earned a degree from the Central Party School of the Chinese Communist Party, an elite institution run by a member of the CCP Politburo that immerses young, up-and-coming party members in the party’s doctrines, according to The New York Times. Additionally, Li has previously participated in the Shandong Province’s People’s Congress and has been praised by Chinese government entities for being a “model laborer” in his business career, according to a 2022 staff research report of the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission.

Republican Reps. Jim Banks of Indiana, John Moolenaar of Michigan, Dusty Johnson of South Dakota and Brad Finstad of Minnesota described Fufeng Group as having “close ties” to the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) in an October 2023 letter to Department of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas and Secretary of State Antony Blinken. The letter urged Blinken and Mayorkas to launch a sanctions investigation into Fufeng Group for potential violations of the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act.

The lawmakers highlighted that Fufeng Group has a substantial business presence in China’s Xinjiang region, an area that is  ground zero for the CCP’s genocide against the Uyghur Muslims. A Fufeng Group subsidiary operates in close proximity to three Uyghur “re-education” camps, and Fufeng Group was party to a joint venture with a subsidiary of a “paramilitary conglomerate” that implements the CCP’s agenda in Xinjiang, the letter states.

The company also sought to set up its factory in Indiana after the North Dakota plans fell apart, according to the Indiana Capital Chronicle, but the state government moved to enact a bipartisan law that effectively bans Chinese companies from purchasing farmland.

 

“Fufeng is a significant risk to our country’s national security. The Chinese owned company has already been prevented from building near a military installation in North Dakota and critical infrastructure in Indiana. Now, it appears they’re trying to build in Ohio,” Michael Lucci, the founder of an organization called State Armor that aims to counter Chinese influence in the American heartland, told the DCNF. “Allowing Fufeng to build plants across the country poses a great threat to our nation. It exposes American assets to espionage and sabotage and it allows a Chinese company to control crucial food supply chains within the US, as they achieved by purchasing control of Smithfield Foods.”

JobsOhio’s efforts to attract Chinese companies or their subsidiaries to Ohio extend beyond its work to find Fufeng USA a home in the state.

The organization is also partnering with an entity called Illuminate USA — a joint venture between U.S.-based green investment firm Invenergy and LONGi, a Chinese solar giant — that is building a solar module factory in Pataskala, Ohio, over the opposition of numerous locals. JobsOhio assisted the Illuminate USA project by helping identify workers to fill particular roles at the factory, according to Invenergy.

That facility is poised to reap federal subsidies from the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA), President Joe Biden’s flagship climate bill, according to Financial Times. A Vietnam-based unit of LONGi, one of the largest solar companies in the world, was found to have evaded American tariffs in violation of U.S. trade law by the Commerce Department in August 2023, and American customs officials have held up shipments of LONGi products in the past because of potential links to Uyghur Muslim forced labor.

 

“The joint venture solar project has a U.S. company as the majority owner, and regarding JobsOhio’s relationship, the joint venture must maintain a U.S. majority owner. The U.S.-owned land and facility and the hundreds of American workers currently on the job there are important steps toward broader onshoring and bolstering of advanced manufacturing jobs and production capacity,” the JobsOhio spokesperson told the DCNF. “All our agreements require that the companies comply with federal, state and local laws, and we retain the right to terminate any agreement when the company does not comply with those laws at any time. Those agreements also require Ohio jobs to be created and capital investments to be made in Ohio, or the agreement can be terminated.”

JobsOhio also pushed to bring a Chinese glass manufacturer called Fuyao into Ohio in the 2010s.

Kristi Tanner, then a senior vice president at JobsOhio, traveled to the company’s headquarters in China sometime around January 2014 to persuade Fuyao executives to visit potential factory sites in Ohio, according to The Columbus Dispatch. Fuyao ultimately decided to establish operations in an abandoned General Motors factory in Moraine, Ohio, later that year, an outcome that JobsOhio touted as a major success as recently as 2018.

Fuyao elected to expand the facility in 2016, and the company received approximately $10 million in subsidies from the state, according to The Columbus Dispatch.

The factory became the subject of a 2019 Academy Award-winning documentary titled “American Factory,” according to The Columbus Dispatch. Among other things, the film depicts Chinese officials within the company appearing to discuss terminating American workers who were trying to unionize.

Those depictions prompted the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) to open an investigation into the company for potential violations of the National Labor Relations Act (NRLA), but the NRLB sided with Fuyao, according to Dayton Daily News.

Fufeng USA and representatives for Fufeng Group did not respond to requests for comment.

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