Celebrating businesswomen in Ballard County; Yu's journey from China to Wickliffe
by Kelly Paul
Wickliffe - Angie Yu, President Two Rivers Fisheries, recently hosted "Celebrating Businesswomen in Ballard County." As the guest speaker for the Ballard County Chamber event, Yu shared her story of growing up in Communist China and the journey that led her across the ocean to finally settle in Wickliffe, Kentucky.
Yu began her story by pointing to her hometown on a map of China. Just a lake separated where she grew up from Siberia. She said she was born in a farm town much like the farm towns in Kentucky. "We had a lot of corn, beans, and wheat. That's why the first time I came here [Kentucky], when I saw this land, I just feel like home," Yu said.
Yu said growing up in a Communist Country was not scary. She said she and her family were ordinary. Her father worked for the government, and her mother worked in what Yu called a "Chinese Wal-Mart." "Everything was state-owned," she said. Yu was one of five children with three brothers and one sister.
Yu considers her family a "small United Nation". One of her brothers lives in Canada, one lives in Japan, and one still lives in China. Yu's sister emigrated to Canada, but returned to China when her husband got a job in China.
Until she was 20 years old, Yu didn't know the world outside of China. It was when she was twenty that Mao Zedong died. This opened up opportunities in that colleges were open again after having been shut down for ten years.
Yu said that only 3 percent of Chinese people got to go to college. She described the stress and anxiety of having to take a test to compete with others to get into college. The exam itself was not the only stressor; the procedures for taking it were just as stressful. "The whole country. The same exam. The same day. The same time," she said. "That's really scary, you know."
After graduating from college, Yu was assigned by the government to work in a bank. She worked there for nine years until she transferred to the loan department. She said she interpreted for textile merchants. This brought her to Europe to interpret for merchants there. When she was 34 years old, Yu then moved to the United States where she could sell blankets for Chinese textile merchants.
After working in textiles for fifteen years, Yu's entrepreneurial spirit led her to begin working with her brother who lived in Canada. Yu said factories in China had asked her to buy King Crab shells to extract glucosamine. After contacting processors in Alaska and finding out that the King Crab had been over-fished, Yu decided to set up a crab processing plant in Canada with her brother.
Yu's next venture came in the form of buying fish from Canada and Iceland. The news of the Asian Carp problem in the United States led Yu to realize there was a market for the Carp because the Chinese wanted it. "I did a lot of research before I settled down," Yu said. She looked up and down the Mississippi River trying to find a good location to set up an Asian Carp processing plant.
When she saw the cornfields and soybeans in Wickliffe, Yu felt that she was at home. The resemblance of Wickliffe to Yu's hometown proved to be a major deciding factor in opening Two Rivers Fisheries in Wickliffe. "This is good for the U.S. and it's good for China," she said.
Yu said this past year has been difficult. Her husband had been extremely ill, causing a 6-month delay. The government shutdown also caused delays. "I will not give up. If I quit now, it will be regret," Yu said. "We are now catching up."
Yu said Two Rivers Fisheries is now going into phase 2 of its plan. They are now going into fertilizer production. The company is also taking orders from Europe for Kosher fish. "We are on the right track," she said.
When it comes to being a businesswoman, Yu said, "There's not much difference in us. We are all human beings. We all want a peaceful life, a good life. We want to work hard."
In the end, Yu says, "If I fail, at least I tried."