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Hong Kong Wants to Bring Back Factory Jobs That Left Long Ago

In an attempt to diversify the financial capital’s economy, the government is offering generous subsidies in a bid for more manufacturing.

Nanoshield’s Hong Kong plant.

Nanoshield’s Hong Kong plant.

Photographer: Lam Yik/Bloomberg
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After decades overseeing the outsourcing of electronics production to low-cost destinations in China and Southeast Asia, Roberto Leone has chosen an unlikely location for his latest manufacturing venture: one of Asia’s most expensive cities, Hong Kong. Nirotech Ltd., the company Leone co-founded, has been pumping out 30,000 video door intercoms a month since December from the district of Yuen Long, near the border with mainland China.

Such factories are a rare sight in Hong Kong, which experienced one of the world’s most rapid deindustrializations. Manufacturing’s share of the economy went from more than 30% in the 1970s to only 1% today. Now, after decades of positioning the territory as the front office for mainland China and prioritizing financial and business services, Hong Kong’s leadership is offering billions of dollars in subsidies to lure factories back. The goal: to revive an economy that was stagnating even before the coronavirus pandemic and help provide well-paying jobs for young people whose discontent about dwindling opportunities has contributed to years of pro-democracy protests.