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A mechanic walks past cars at the Anhui Jianghuai Automobile factory in Hefei, Anhui province. [Zhu Lixin/China Daily]

Traveling by ship on the Yangtze River, tourists see fewer smoking chimneys in the riverside city of Anqing, Anhui province.

Though some of the chimneys remain on the northern bank of the river, where the urban area is located, others have been moved to a zone for petrochemical companies, several kilometers away from the river. Those were replaced by modern office buildings, which offer more space for new industries.

Anqing"s economy had been dominated by petrochemicals. Data provided by the local government show that the industry contributed more than 46 percent of the city"s industrial output value in 2014, when it recorded a value of 73.1 billion yuan ($10.6 billion) and a GDP of 154 billion yuan.

"In recent years, the city has been increasing its efforts to not only upgrade the traditional petrochemical industry but develop new sectors for more environmentally friendly and sustainable growth," said Cao Jindong, chief economist of the Anqing economic and information technology commission.

Cao said the efforts have been well rewarded and offers two examples.

In 2014, a machine tools company, Anqing Hongqing Fine Machinery, had more than 200 employees and annual sales revenue of more than 30 million yuan, according to Wang Honggui, assistant to the general manager of the company.

In that year, the world"s largest contract manufacturer, Foxconn Technology Group, acquired the company, partly thanks to local government support.

The government helped build a new 1.3-hectare plant and handed it over to Foxconn, which had never invested in Anhui province before.

"The plant saw the start of construction in 2015. It was completed in 2017," Wang said, adding that while the company is still paying for the project, things have become much easier.

"The number of employees has doubled, and annual sales revenue surged to 657 million yuan, almost 20 times higher than the 2014 level," Wang said. The company now provides machinery to Foxconn for producing cellphone components.

Other efforts have gone into the new energy vehicle industry, Cao said.

In 2014, Anhui Jianghuai Automobile, or JAC, a carmaker based in Hefei, Anhui, started building a major plant in Anqing to produce electric vehicles.

The plant started up in 2016, with a total investment of 1.5 billion yuan and a production capacity of 50,000 electric vehicles.

"The first products were produced in 2016, when each vehicle was able to run for only 170 kilometers or less, while the latest model IEV6E is able to run 310 kilometers," said Long Kaifeng, general manager of JAC"s Anqing subsidiary.

About 6 kilometers away from the JAC plant, a bigger investment is being made by Yudea New Energy Technology Group to produce electric vehicles. The company, based in Hebei province, expects that the 2.3-billion-yuan first phase will start operating before the end of this year.

Public information shows that the first phase will be able to produce 200,000 vehicles a year.

The carmakers are based in a new industrial park dedicated to the new energy vehicle industry. Government planners project that the city will see an annual output of 500,000 electric vehicles by 2020.

Material provided by the city"s development and reform commission showed that the city will produce a total of more than 50,000 electric vehicles this year.

The city has been upgrading strategic emergent industries, which include new energy vehicles, high-end equipment manufacturing, new materials and new-generation information technology.

Over the past five years, the city"s strategic industries sector has been growing by an average of 13.2 percent annually in output value, according to the 2018 government report delivered by Chen Bingbing, mayor of Anqing, in January.

The sector saw a 21.6 percent growth in output value in the first half of the year, compared with the same period the previous year - 2.8 percentage points higher than the province overall, Cao said.