Lancaster Mayor R. Rex Parris is determined to make his desert town a hub for Chinese companies specializing in alternative energy.
That dream came a little closer at the public unveiling Wednesday of the plug-in electric bus factory owned by Build Your Dreams, or BYD, an electric vehicle manufacturer in Shenzhen, China.
BYD is taking over an 110,000-square-foot manufacturing facility in Lancaster that formerly produced recreational vehicles. Its initial investment of more than $10 million also includes a nearby plant that will produce energy storage modules and electric batteries for the buses.
After upgrades, the factories will start building 10 new plug-in buses in October to be delivered to the city of Long Beach -- its first customer -- by May 2014. The initial deal is worth about $12 million.
"This is going to be the Chinese enclave for alternative energy in the West Coast," Parris said in an interview. "In other cities, it might take years to open up something like this, but we will move mountains for them."
Stella Li, BYD's senior vice president, said Lancaster impressed her with city officials who moved at the same speed as the business world
"I am aggressive in the industry, and this is the first time a government official beat me," Li said of Parris. "They help you like a businessperson. They ask what you need, and they do it."
Li said every bus manufactured at the two factories produces one American job. The hope is to churn out 50 buses by next year, she said, and create 50 new jobs in areas such as plant operation, research and design, and marketing.
Company officials have said that BYD employs about 40 people in its North American headquarters in downtown Los Angeles, which opened to much fanfare in 2010.
The new bus plant, which sits on 13 acres, has the capacity to manufacture 1,000 vehicles a year, Li said. BYD is targeting cities like Long Beach that are moving towards alternative energy transit systems and private sector companies.
Parrish said the courtship of BYD started five years ago, soon after he was elected as mayor.
At a dinner in downtown Los Angeles, he was introduced to BYD founder Wang Chuanfu, who was then looking for opportunities in the American market.
He kept in touch with the company and soon toured their solar village in Shenzhen. Later he brought together BYD and California home builder KB Home to create a prototype of a solar-powered house that generates more power than it uses.
At a news conference Wednesday, Parris, Li and other city and county officials gathered to celebrate the new factories beginning production this fall.
Los Angeles County Supervisor Mike Antonovich said the region's ports, great weather and large consumer market make it a "superb" American home for BYD.
Antonovich concluded his remarks with a short demonstration of his Mandarin abilities: "Thank you. I like you. Bye bye," he said.
Follow Shan Li on Twitter @ShanLi