ADDIS ABABA, ETHIOPIA — In the United States, we often hear politicians rail against the degradation of our manufacturing sector as “good jobs get sent oversees.” In Ethiopia today, I saw the other side of the equation, though it was Danish industry that moved abroad. And surprisingly, the Danish government seemed quite pleased about it.
Engsko is a Danish-Ethiopian company that sells mill stones all around the world. It was first established in Denmark in the late 1800s and in the 1950s began exporting mill stones to Ethiopia. By the 1990s, Ethiopia was importing about 16,000 mill stones a year, which are mostly used in agro-processing, and Ensko formed an Ethiopian branch to produce the stones locally. In 2007, Ensko shuttered its Danish factory and moved all production to Ethiopia.
As an American, I was somewhat taken aback that a government would want to draw attention to this fact, much less bring reporters to the new factory! Not so for the Danes. In fact, the Danish Development Minister Ulla Tomaes keynoted a ribbon-cutting ceremony to open a new wing of the factory.
In her speech, Tomaes hailed the factory as a development success story. It is a $2.5 million business that makes about 50,000 stones a year. It employs 122 locals, offering them decent wages and health care services. Also, Ethiopia has saved significant sums by being an exporter, rather than a main importer, of mill stones. Finally, the plant has yielded excellent returns for the (mostly Danish) shareholders.
Since the Danes have fairly robust social welfare policies, I would imagine that the workers whose jobs were exported to Ethiopia were pretty well looked after. The Ethiopian workers who inherited these jobs, like the cement mixers pictured to the right, have certainly benefited mightily from the move.