A delegation of 41 members of MIA+BSI: The Natural Stone Institute attended the Xiamen Stone Fair, which was held from March 6 to 9, 2017 in Xiamen, China. This was the second consecutive year MIA+BSI participated at the international stone exhibition, and participants were eager to experience the massive trade show, as well as Chinese culture.

As part of the delegation’s visit, one full day was dedicated to a study tour where the group was taken to the Shuitou Fujian stone region. The schedule included stops at four prominent stone producers and suppliers: Wanli Stone Ltd., Jianming Rising Import & Export Ltd., Xishi Group and Kangli Stone Group.

The group was led by James A. Hieb, CAE, CEO of MIA+BSI: The Natural Stone Institute, and Jeff Handley, member relations manager for the association. Among the participants of the delegation were several past and current members of the Board of Directors, as well as association officers. Everyone expressed enthusiasm about the study tour and was excited to have the opportunity to tour the stone processing plants.

“Learning how our industry works, in all facets, not only in China but from all over the world, was an invaluable experience,” said Buddy Ontra of Ontra Stone Concepts in Bridgeport, CT, and MIA director representing the Northeast, including Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, Rhode Island and Vermont. “It was wonderful to learn not only about our colleagues in China, but to learn about their remarkable culture.”

The first visit of the morning was to Wanli Stone Ltd., a joint venture between Xiamen Wanli Stone (China) and Minaco (Pty) Ltd, a South African company housing the separate highly specialized natural stone processing activities of the Finstone Group. The company owns eight factories located in China and Nicaragua and employs 2,000 workers.

At the time of Stone World and the delegation’s tour, Wanli Stone was fabricating countertops for a project in the U.S. The company does a great amount of hospitality work.

“Our hosts in Xiamen pulled no stops in making us all feel welcome,” said Ontra. “As a small countertop fabricator, especially with very little international travel experience, the trip, show and the factory tour really opened my eyes.”

While the 2016 study tour included a trip to Jianming Rising Import & Export Ltd., a return trip was planned this year to see the completion of the company’s expansion project. A new facility was added, which serves as a warehouse for inventory and area to lay out finished pieces.

Jianming Rising Import & Export Ltd., which consists of more than 1,000 employees in its entire group, also was proud to show the delegation its new custom water recycling system. “The company made the decision to go green,” explained Josh Zhang, general manager of Jianming Stone Group. “It was a big investment, but we are more efficient now.”

The company primarily focuses on custom jobs in the commercial sector. It has a factory specifically set up for U.S. projects. According to Zhang, the company supplies stone pieces for many Mormon Temples. “The U.S. is a great market,” he said. “We are focused on high-end work and quality.”

After lunch, which was hosted by Jianming Rising Import & Export Ltd., the group headed to Xishi Group, which includes a total of three companies: Xishi  Group, Xishi Holding and Xishi Construction. The delegation received a warm welcome, especially because it was “Women’s Day” in China. Each lady in the group received a rose, and everyone was led to a conference room where they were given an overview of the company.

The company has received certification from the Ministry of Construction of China. It maintains 30 sales offices in China and operates 10 quarries in China, as well as 15 additional quarries in Italy, Mexico and Turkey.

Xishi Group explained to the delegation that it has plans to upgrade its factory this year. It specializes in cut-to-size work.

The final stop on the study tour was to Kangli Stone Group’s facility. The company, which was established in 1989, has grown to include 3,000 employees and production plants in four locations: Shenzhen, Shuituo, Huidong and Tianjin.

Upon arrival, the delegation was immediately in awe of the extensive inventory — more than 1,000 varieties — of stone slabs. The collection included a seemingly endless supply of exotic material — with one type more beautiful and unique than the next.

Members of the delegation all seemed impressed by the stone-processing plants that were visited on the study tour. “After seeing the factories and how they run their operations, my perspective on ‘that Chinese Stone’ has come around 180 degrees for the better,’’ said Ontra.

GK Naquin of Stone Interiors North America, 2011 president of the MIA and Board of Directors, shared Ontra’s sentiments. “One of the highlights of the MIA + BSI delegation visit to Xiamen was the factory tours,” he said. “I have been to many factories all over the world, but this was an eye-opening experience. The fact is that the factories we visited were very large, using modern technology, employing good safety policies and well-organized clean work spaces. The tour was one of my more educational experiences on forging markets.”