DONGGUAN, China — The Pearl River Delta in southern China is across the border from Hong Kong, home to the cities of Guangzhou, Shenzhen and Dongguan and one of the nation’s two largest manufacturing centers.

But increasingly, natives of the region encompassed by Guangdong province are not the people who operate the looms and sewing machines in the many local factories. That’s because the influx of business has driven wages in the region up and encouraged many locals to enter administrative and low-level management jobs, according to local factory managers and sourcing executives.

“A lot of skilled people have moved into higher rank, from blue collar to white collar,” said David Chan, director of Moregoal Industries Ltd., a Hong Kong-owned company with a knitwear factory in Dongguan.

He said that most of his plant workers come from Sichuan, Hunan and other northern provinces, where there are fewer employment opportunities. Even migrant workers, who tend to come down each year after the Chinese New Year holiday, stay in factory dormitories and work until the holiday returns, have become more attuned to finding better wages.

“They shop around; they will move to another factory if the wages are better,” he said.

As is the case around the world, the apparel business in China is seasonal, and keeping a steady enough flow of orders to keep workers occupied through their 5 1/2-day workweek is another factor, he said.

Sources said that in major Guangdong cities, factory workers are currently paid about $120 a month, up from about $90 to $100 five years ago. Office workers’ pay has risen to as much as $250 a month, up from about $150 five years ago.

In some cases, Chinese garment factories also provide housing for out-of-town managers, though managers tend to get private housing, rather than living eight to 12 to a room as the workers do.

Sourcing executives said wages are rising in the Pearl River Delta region, as well as around the Yangtze River Delta, another major manufacturing center, around Shanghai. But they said that the rising cost is offset by the high efficiency of Chinese workers.“The big deal is that productivity costs are low,” said a Hong Kong-based sourcing executive for a major U.S. retailer.

Still, handwork — from sewing to pressing to washing some delicate fabrics —remains a key part of garment manufacturing, and sources said costs over time will encourage Chinese apparel factories to migrate to the north and west of the country, going to the workers, rather than having the workers come to them. Eventually, executives speculated, lower-cost sourcing locations like Vietnam could draw business away from China.

“In the long run, China’s manufacturing center will get bigger and stronger, but China is also getting more expensive,” said Jeff Macho, Sears, Roebuck & Co.’s Hong Kong-based vice president and managing director for Asia and the Caribbean. “We don’t deal with a static world.”

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