Shoemakers in Ariaria Market, Aba, have expressed concern that invitation of a Chinese investor may stifle local entrepreneurs.
The Abia Government in April 2017 announced that it had secured a loan of $1.5bn for a Chinese entrepreneur to set up a shoe industry in Aba.
Some shoemakers in separate interviews on Saturday in Aba said the arrangement would not work in their favour, as they lacked the capacity to compete with the well-established shoe manufacturing company.
Mr Ikedi Ohaeto, one of the local entrepreneurs, said it was not proper for Gov. Okezie Ikpeazu who is championing made-in-Aba products to shop for an investor from abroad.
He stressed that what the governor ought to do, is to empower local entrepreneurs to acquire machines.
“If the Chinese arrives with his machines and coupled with cheap labour, how can we compete with him producing with bare hands?
“I am not too sure that Aba shoemaking industry will survive long after the Chinese arrive to establish his shoe factory here.
“We need foreign investors but not in this way or this sector in Abia”, Ohaeto said.
Another shoemaker, Mr Chinbueze Onyeizu , said that the governor should change his mind on bringing the Chinese to Aba to produce shoes.
He said that rather than bring the Chinese, the government should buy machines for them to boost their production, and give them time to repay the cost of the machines.
Onyeizu noted that the idea of bringing the Chinese investor in the area of shoe production with machines to compete with people producing with bare hands would be counter-productive for the Aba shoe industry.
Another shoemaker, Mr Ken Ora, also stressed the need for government’s intervention to enable them to buy the machines.
He noted that the Umukalika Industrial City, that would house the Shoe, Finished Leather Products and Garment clusters, need to be adequately equipped with industrial machines.
Ora argued that for the industrial city to be without machines would be like sending a man to work without equipment.
“If the shoemakers that would be located at Umukalika do not have machines, how can they compete with the Chinese coming with machines and other advantages?
“Again, the machines we need cannot be purchased individually, because we do not have the funds to do that and so we look up to government to help us.
“If Abia Government can buy machines and recoup the money later, does it make business sense to bring in a Chinese competitor, recouping the fund from will be harder,” he queried.