Matt Nuccio. "Manufacturing in the Middle East."
Toy & Family Entertainment, Aug. 2010
A few weeks ago, I stepped off of a plane into Queen Alia International Airport in Amman, Jordan. In all honesty I was bit nervous. In preparation of my trip, I hadn't shaved in weeks, figuring a beard might help me fit in. Although I knew that Jordan was a U.S. ally, I also knew it wasn't entirely safe. In 2005, suicide bombers had killed 60 people and injured another 115 when they blew up three hotels, including the one I was staying in, the Radission SAS Hotel. To add to my tattered state I was stupid enough to watch the Iraq war movie, The Hurt Locker, on my connecting flight into Heathrow. And so I stepped off that plane completely paranoid with two hours to kill waiting for my associate from my Hong Kong office to arrive and meet me.
Design Edge, although known for our product and package design, also manufactures packaging for many companies around the world out of our Hong Kong-based Design Edge East division. Besides toys we supply for the garment, housewares and electronics industries. Until recently, Thailand had been a garment manufacturing hub, particularly underwear. But over the last two years the political system has be falling apart, so major companies had to start looking elsewhere to make their garments. High tariffs imposed by the U.S. caused them to leave China years earlier.
At first it was India, and then I watched it quickly shift over to Jordan. This made no sense to me at first. Common consensus is that India is supposed to be the next China. The toy industry has been getting wood out of Vietnam for years, so why not there or even Malaysia? As it turns out the U.S. has been subsidizing Jordanian manufacturing in exchange for open trade agreements with Israel in an effort to maintain the peace.
The following morning we were picked up by a driver and escorted to the factory. By the back window the driver had a Pound Puppy. It made me feel at home. But as we approached the industrial zone I read a road sign that read "30km to the Iraqi boarder"... and that wasn't very comforting. We arrived at the factory and were greeted by a man who looked like Osama Bin Laden. He politely brought us into a small office where a large portrait of King Abdullah II hung. I was a stranger in a strange land. Then a very average looking guy strolled in and introduced himself. Ramzi, was the head of operation there. He was cool and collected. His english was impeccable. He offered us coffee and asked us if we liked jazz. I told him I did and we proceeded to talk about Miles, Dizzy, Bird and Monk. Quickly I felt at ease. He then took us on a tour of his facility. It was state of the art.
Impressive by any standard. He explained how Jordan business has been growing exponentially over the last few years, and how more and more top U.S. companies are moving in. Over the next three days we discussed our business objectives for the upcoming year and drafted the outlines for our agreement. Afterwards he took us to his favorite jazz bar. I was shocked at how westernized it was. The musicians were top notch and the cliental was friendly. We discussed politics and as I explained my fears of coming to Jordan, he expressed how scared he is to come to New York. We both agreed that the militant fundamentalists, whether they are Muslim, Christian, Jew or Moony, are the problem and not the everyday people. We all just want to live in peace.
The next two days we set off as tourists visiting Petra, Philadelphia (yes they have a Philly - it's our city's name sake) shopping centers and city sights, and you know what? I found that everywhere we went people were charming, polite and very respectful to us. By the time I left I felt I was no longer nervous. I had learned that there is a giant world out there and we all just want a piece of the pie. When cultures unite we can accomplish anything. It seems to me that people are just scared of change. The toy industry has been in China for so long. At current time prices keep going up because of labor increases and material shortage. I'm not suggesting that we move the industry to Jordan, but I realize that we shouldn't be so complacent as to stay for the sake of staying. It's a big world out there.