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Labor shortages, rising rents, falling sales
Published on: 2013-03-28
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altIt's early afternoon. The weather is getting warmer. The dusty roads in the shoemaking capital of China are empty except for a few teenagers in bizarre hairstyles and gaudy attire that make them look more like punk rockers than, well, jobseekers.
 
They aren't looking for jobs at nightclubs. There are none in this neighborhood of factories and more factories making shoes by the million.
 
A few years ago, such unconventional teenagers wouldn't have stood a chance of landing a job in any factory here. They probably wouldn't even have got past the gate.
 
But times have changed. Employers have not become more tolerant, but are faced with the big problem of finding enough people to work for them.
 
The labor shortage is troubling factory owners in industrialized coastal regions from Tianjin to Foshan in Guangdong province. But the problem is hitting Wenzhou particularly hard simply because of the harsh working conditions in many factories churning out copious quantities of small goods and selling them to overseas buyers at razor-thin profit margins.
 
As Zhou Haifan, a director of Juyi Group, a well-known shoemaker in Wenzhou, has learned, there is a limit to how far you can cut your costs to survive. Business has been bad in the past few years. To compete for those dwindling overseas orders, Juyi has had to keep trimming its costs to the point that it can no longer afford to keep its experienced workers.
 
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