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Chinese PC company to open plant in US

– It’s a twist on a familiar storyline. Virtually all of the personal computers sold in this country are now made in China, including those made by U.S. companies such as Hewlett Packard and Dell.

But last week, Lenovo, a China-based company, announced plans to manufacture PCs in North Carolina.

Lenovo is portraying its plans to manufacture personal computers in Guilford County – creating 115 jobs and investing $2 million – as a first step that could lead to much more.

“Lenovo is kind of pushing the envelope here in terms of bringing manufacturing back to the U.S.,” said technology analyst Rob Enderle of The Enderle Group of San Jose, Calif., and Concord, Mass.

The company’s decision reflects Lenovo’s confidence in being able to make further inroads into the U.S. PC market. The company also believes that some consumers and businesses will be drawn to PCs that are made in America.

“We’re very bullish,” said David Schmoock, president of the No. 2 computer maker’s North American business. “I’m expecting I’ll be able to stand up here on a future day and talk about expansion.”

Lenovo’s strategy of starting with a small production line is in stark contrast with the last PC company that chose North Carolina as a manufacturing site.

In 2005, with great fanfare, Dell opened a PC factory in Winston-Salem that was expected to eventually employ more than 1,500 workers. But slumping sales triggered the company’s decision to close the plant four years later.

The odds of a similar fate befalling Lenovo’s plant are lessened by its smaller scale, said technology analyst Roger Kay of Endpoint Technologies Associates in Massachusetts.

“Lenovo is still pinching its pennies a bit even as it expands,” Kay said. “Therefore, the likelihood of Lenovo having the same consequences as Dell is lower.”

Steve Kleynhans, research vice president with the Gartner Group, a technology analysis and consulting firm based in Stamford, Conn., said based on the employee count and the amount being invested, the number of PCs being produced won’t be huge.

“We’re not talking millions of machines,” he said. “We’re talking thousands of machines.”

Industry experts speculate the company is doing some toe-dipping before deciding whether to take the plunge.

“This mostly looks like it is an experiment, a hedge against the future,” Kleynhans said. “I think it’s always good to have a diversified selection of manufacturing facilities around the world to help you if you run into supply chain hiccups or natural disasters or whatever.”

And although Lenovo says politics were a non-factor in its decision, Kleynhans also sees the move as a hedge against a change in the political climate.

“It has always been something that they have been concerned about that, as a Chinese company, their products may not always be accepted in the U.S. and some other places,” he said.

Lenovo, which is on the verge of becoming the No. 1 PC maker worldwide, expects to begin manufacturing in the new plant early next year.

Lenovo is the fourth-selling brand behind HP, Dell and Apple, according to worldwide research firm IDC, based in Framingham, Mass.