American Factory, Canadian Port?

I know I said I was going to hang this week’s content on “recent developments” in stories I’d already covered but this story is an exception: I’m hanging this one on the fact that there have been no recent developments in a story I’ve covered extensively (some might say obsessively) since launching the Spectator — the proposed Sydney harbor container terminal.

In fact, the last time we heard from our port marketer/developer Albert Barbusci of Sydney Harbour Investment Partners (SHIP) was in May when he issued a press release claiming to have secured financing for his planned deep-water container terminal from a New York-based private equity firm called Avaio Capital.

As of today, the Avaio website, although it contains multiple links to its own press release about the SHIP deal, lists only one project under “active investments” and it’s not the Sydney container terminal:

Screenshot from Avaio Capital website, taken 2019.09.11

Screenshot from Avaio Capital website, taken 2019.09.11


This, then, doesn’t make for much of an update.

But I have an idea that I hope will keep you entertained until Barbusci — who had once predicted (presumably with a straight face) that the Sydney container terminal would go into operation in 2019 — reappears.


Dateline: Dayton

I watched a fascinating documentary on Netflix last night called American Factory. It’s the story of a former GM plant in Dayton, Ohio, that closed in 2008, throwing 10,000 people out of work. In 2014, a Chinese billionaire named Cao Dewang bought it and reopened it as Fuyao Glass America, a producer of automobile glass. His plan was to hire 2,000 American workers, augmented by 200 Chinese workers.


I was pointed to the documentary by this NPR Planet Money review which characterized it as a ” a challenging, strange, eye-opening film”:

The part that is astonishing about American Factory is seeing everything about the United States through the eyes of Chinese factory workers and managers arriving to reopen and restaff a plant in the rust belt. American Factory is the view we never get. Americans know how they feel about competing with China. But we don’t know how China feels about working with America.

Reviewing American Factory — the first film released by Higher Ground, Barack and Michelle Obama’s production company — on, Peter Sobczynski writes:

At first, it seems like things might actually work out, especially as each side’s prejudices start to recede. The trouble is that there are innate differences between the Chinese and American attitudes toward work that simply cannot be overlooked. As Dewang belatedly discovers, the approach that made Fuyao effective in China—in which workers are seen more as cogs in a machine than as individuals, overtime and working on weekends is considered mandatory and safety regulations and protocols are not strictly observed—will not work here. To try to bridge the gap, some American managers are brought over to China to observe how their system works, but attempts to implement what they’ve witnessed don’t go over well. As Dewang is driven to frustration by the plant’s underperformance, the workers—upset by the stagnant wages and uptick in workplace injuries—begin to contemplate joining with the United Auto Workers, a move that Dewang vows will lead to him closing up shop for good.



The film is totally absorbing. Watching the American and Chinese cultures clash is just as fun as you think it’s going to be — there’s something surreal about the factory’s Communist owner being so virulently anti-union — but the overarching message of the film (at least, the message I took from it) is that regardless of nationality or ethnicity, workers of this world are united both in their goals and in the existential threat posed to them by automation.

That said, the film is particularly interesting to watch if you live in a Canadian municipality that was sold on a scheme to have the Chinese finance, design and build a container terminal in your harbor by a Montreal advertising executive claiming to be well-connected in the People’s Republic.

Or if your mayor has traveled to China regularly and returned claiming that he, too, has become adept at negotiating with the Chinese.

Still from documentary "American Factory"

Managers from Fuyao Glass America plant in Dayton performing “YMCA” at company headquarters in Fuqing, China. Still from documentary American Factory. Source: YouTube.

Because when the documentary crew follows those American managers on their trip to China, you can pretend they are CBRM Mayor Cecil Clarke and Port of Sydney CEO Marlene Usher and Public Works Manager John Phalen and CAO Marie Walsh and I swear you will get a sense of what their interactions in Beijing must have been like. (I mean, I don’t know that they were asked to dance on stage to “YMCA” for the employees of the Chinese Communications Construction Company, but I can dream, can’t I?)

For this unexpected pleasure alone, I highly recommend American Factory.