published Sunday, February 7th, 2010

New Kia plant brings jobs to area

LaGRANGE, Ga. — Sit down with Sewon America plant manager Ken Mangold at the Kia supplier’s factory here, and you’ll likely be served hot Korean tea in a cup and saucer.

At lunch and during breaks, classical music is piped inside and outside the plant for its workers.

The Korean automotive stamping operation, the nearby Kia Motors auto assembly plant’s largest supplier, made a $170 million investment in the new facility and plans to hire 700 people.

While starting wages aren’t overly rich at $10 per hour, there has been no shortage of prospects looking for jobs, Mr. Mangold said.

“A lot of people are hungry for jobs,” he said.

The region around Kia’s new auto assembly plant has landed about 20 supplier projects since the start of 2007, either new plants or expansions, amounting to over 5,000 jobs and more than $700 million in investment, according to officials.

Some of the companies do double duty, supplying Kia and sister company Hyundai’s assembly plant in Montgomery, Ala., officials said.

Most of the suppliers are Korean businesses, though there are a few American companies which built plants as well, officials said.

Mr. Mangold said Sewon has about 200 people on board now as Kia just started production of its Sorento sport utility vehicle in November. By the end of 2010, Sewon officials expect to have about 500 working at the plant. Plans are to reach 700 by 2012.

The supplier is located within about 15 miles of the Kia plant in West Point, Ga., Mr. Mangold said.

Dong Kon Lee, a consultant to the Development Authority of LaGrange, said moving-saving proximity to the Kia plant is a big reason for building close to the assembly factory.

“Kia is emphasizing just-in-time” manufacturing, he said.

Suppliers also received financial incentives to build, officials said.

Jane Fryer, also with the Development Authority, said incentives were based on the amount of investment and the number of jobs.

She said Sewon being the biggest supplier “wanted more, and they got more.”

“We chose Georgia because of the tax incentives,” Mr. Mangold said. “Both states were fighting hard.”

Mr. Mangold estimated that 80 percent of Sewon’s work force lives within 25 miles of the plant. But, the Sewon official said, some people commute the 60 or so miles from Atlanta or the 30 miles from Columbus, Ga.

He said work force quality is “good,” though the region doesn’t have a lot of automotive background. Sewon uses the state of Georgia’s Quick Start initiative for training and to get people familiar with the auto market, the official said.

In addition, the Georgia Department of Labor’s Career Centers have worked with a lot of suppliers to tap into the local work force, said Gail Long, who manages the LaGrange site near the Sewon plant.

She said her center recently hosted a job fair for another company and about 300 people showed up.

Ms. Long said when employers post jobs with the center, it collects applications based on the qualifications set by the company.

“We screen applicants and send them to the employer,” she said.

Corliss Rush Jr. of LaGrange was at the career center recently with hopes of landing a job related to Kia. The 38-year-old truck driver said he’s willing to be trained to do the work.

“Eventually there will be more jobs to had,” he said about the Kia plant and its supplier base. “I hope they come up with my name.”

Mr. Mangold said Sewon does have some Korean staff at the plant which act as a support team to the American work force.

“They interact closely,” he said.

about Mike Pare...

Mike Pare, the deputy Business editor at the Chattanooga Times Free Press, has worked at the paper for 27 years. In addition to editing, Mike also writes Business stories and covers Volkswagen, economic development and manufacturing in Chattanooga and the surrounding area. In the past he also has covered higher education. Mike, a native of Fort Lauderdale, Fla., received a bachelor’s degree in communications from Florida Atlantic University. he worked at the Rome News-Tribune before ...

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