The company's announcement that it will build a glass-finishing plant in China is a tentative step into a market that is both promising and frustrating.It is promising simply because the rapid growth of China's economy will make the devices in which Corning's glass is used - computers and flat-panel televisions - more attractive and more affordable to the country's 1.3 billion people.It is frustrating because China is a difficult and confusing business environment in which to operate - one in which a massive government bureaucracy controls nearly every aspect of commerce.It is also difficult because the Chinese are some of world's best knockoff artists, as Corning Inc. discovered when fake Corning optical fiber turned up there.
Corning's announcement came less than a month after the company's robust denials that it had made any decision about locating a liquid crystal display glass facility in China. Those denials were prompted by comments from the company's spokeswoman in China, Lydia Lu, who spilled the beans to a Shanghai newspaper early in January.
The only problem with the early disclosure was that Corning's board of directors had not yet signed off on the deal. That hurdle was cleared last week when the directors met in New York.
The Twin Tiers' largest employer had little choice about taking staking out its claim on the liquid crystal display glass market in China. Little choice, that is, if it wants to remain the world's dominant producer.
But it was somewhat surprising that the company chose only to build a finishing facility there rather than to take the more aggressive step of locating glass-melting and manufacturing on the Chinese mainland.
Corning hasn't said where its new Chinese plant will be. But the likely locations - mentioned by Lu last month - are in the Yangtze River Delta or in North China. That's where the factories of China's two major manufacturers of liquid crystal displays are located.
Corning Inc. didn't say how much the new Chinese facility will cost. Lu told the Shanghai paper it will be more than $1 billion. Corning said it didn't know where that figure came from.
Regardless of the cost or the location, the move makes Corning the first producer of liquid crystal display glass to put a stake in the ground in China. That's a good first step toward protecting its estimated global share of 50 to 60 percent of the expanding market for the specialty glass.