For nearly 20 years, Jack Xu has considered himself to be a “matchmaker” between China’s parts supply chains and woodworking and metalworking machinery sellers worldwide. His company, Harvey Industries, designs and builds band saws, table saws, sliding table saws and shapers, plus metalworking tools, for 105 countries. It has been an OEM supplier for several big woodworking tool companies here in the States.
More recently, Harvey Industries launched a new line of “innovation” products under its own brand label, too. The company also sells a heavy-duty T40 Turbo Wood Lathe through its website.
But there’s another side of Harvey Industries, where Xu is now serving as a matchmaker between the Chinese government and some 12,800 colleges and universities. It’s an unlikely development that’s taken shape over just the past five years or so.
“China has had an export and infrastructure investment economy for a long time,” Xu says. “But cheap labor and an economy with more than 50 percent of its revenue based on investment isn’t sustainable. Even export is becoming risky, because costs are going up.”
The government’s answer to a more stable future is to shift from an export- and investment-based economy to one that innovates, too. To that end, it is challenging Chinese colleges and universities to change their curriculums.
“In China, traditional education involves students being given the answers to problems. Teachers teach that the solutions to the important questions of math, science and otherwise are already known,” Xu says. “Students aren’t encouraged to be creative and to come up with their own answers to new questions!”
As part of the recent initiative, the government is now subsidizing colleges and universities to add creativity-based courses to their curriculum. Woodworking is among those options.
“We were doing a little business with higher education already, supplying a table saw or other machine here or there,” Xu recalls. “But our core business was in the hobbyist market, not the educational market.”
Then it began to dawn on him: in order for students to really learn how to solve problems creatively through woodworking, a table saw alone wouldn’t be enough. What colleges or universities need are fully equipped woodworking shops.
So Xu and Harvey Industries are now helping some 200 universities achieve these goals through what he calls “Creativity Centers.” The company provides the institution with high quality hand and power tools, Harvey woodworking machinery, accessories, learning materials and training. Most of the smaller tools and general woodworking supplies are imported from sources such as Lie-Nielsen, Bridge City Tool Works, Veritas, Rockler, Leigh Industries and Kreg.
“There are Chinese alternatives for all of these products, but I’ve found none of them to be up to our standards for our Creativity Centers,” Xu says.
Harvey Industries has also added an 8,000-sq.-ft. woodworking shop to the first floor of its factory, located in Nanjing. Here, college faculty receive basic training in woodworking methods and tool use. The shop is staffed by four Harvey employees who are full-time trainers.
“Through woodworking education, students learn that there isn’t just one answer to a problem or question. There can be new answers! And by making mistakes, that’s where learning and creativity begin,” Xu says.
The program is still in its infancy, but Xu hopes to eventually have a woodworking shop in every accredited Chinese college and university. “I’m very proud to be helping Chinese students become better independent thinkers this way,” Xu says.