GEORGIA (WTOC) – In 2009, Hyundai Motor Group opened its first Kia car manufacturing plant in the U.S. near a small town on the Georgia-Alabama border.
“This area historically has been predominantly textiles and we’re trying to give industry a new shot in the arm in this region.”
With the promise of thousands of jobs and a regional transformation.
“If you look at this area five or ten years from now it will look much different. You’re going to see more hotels, restaurants, housing developments coming in. The economic impact we’ll have in the future will change the face of this region and make it better for everyone,” said Randy Jackson, Kia spokesperson.
More than a decade later, WTOC looks at the impact Hyundai Motor Group had 250 miles west of Savannah when it built a plant in West Point, Georgia.
As leaders in our community receive the news today, leaders in Troup County, Georgia know the feeling well.
They say they had no idea how a project of this magnitude would transform their community at a time when they needed it most.
Here’s a look at the impact:
A phone call of interest during a trying time later turned into the largest deal in Georgia’s history.
“We didn’t know at first who it was. We had no idea.”
In 2005, Jane Fryer was then president of the LaGrange Chamber of Commerce and Economic Development Authority.
She took the first call from the state and learned an undisclosed company had interest in a 2,200-acre site in West Point, Georgia.
“He said he had a big project that was looking in this area. The LaGrange Development Authority owned a lot of land and I said, ‘Are you talking about that area?’ And he said ‘No, it’s farther down.’ And I said, ‘There’s no industrial land available in that area.’”
A phone call that quickly turned into a reality three years later in 2009. The plant has since expanded in size and scale from when Kia began production at its first car manufacturing plant in the U.S.
“14 years ago this was all farm land.”
It’s now grown to a $1.8 billion investment off Interstate 85.
The plant employs about 3,000 people who produce about 340,000 cars each year.
“The community has welcomed us with open arms. The unemployment rate I think at the time was 12 percent and now we’re three percent for the area,” said Rick Douglas, Senior Manager Public Relations.
The plant started manufacturing the Kia Sorento in November 2009 and now produces three more models including:
“Our flagship model the telluride, which has taken the market by storm.”
With 90 percent of the cars made here go to dealerships in the U.S. The impact can be seen for 50 miles with Kia suppliers spread along I-85 from Valley, Alabama all the way east to Greenville, Georgia.
“That’s another 14,000 jobs that are created to support this particular operation.”
It’s led to strong partnerships with area schools, technical colleges and universities to develop an automotive workforce.
“We’ve seen a dramatic turn toward technology and what we call smart manufacturing as a result of companies ours and others coming into this area.”
They’ve also seen a melding of American and Korean culture.
“We welcomed the culture. We looked at the differences and the similarities and we’ve found a way to live together and produce the best quality vehicles built in North America.”
For the West Point plant to happen, it required 30 property owners to come to an agreement to sell their generation-owned farm land.
As Jane Fryer explained, they understood the sale would pave the way for a legacy of jobs for future generations.
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