Hyundai Mobis to Build Plant in West Point, Ga.

Aug. 10--Wednesday's announcement that Kia parts supplier Hyundai Mobis will build a 600-employee plant in West Point, Ga., looks to be the first of a string of companies disclosing their plans to do business with the auto assembly plant.

"We think this is the first of several more to happen in the next two to three months," Diethard Lindner, chairman of the Development Authority of LaGrange, said Thursday.

The stakes are high for the region, with 2,900 auto-supply jobs expected to land somewhere in the general area that includes the Georgia counties of Troup, Harris, Meriwether and possibly Muscogee, as well as Chambers, Lee and Russell counties in Alabama.

Those jobs are on top of the estimated 2,500 production and maintenance workers who will be needed to operate Kia Motors Corp.'s main 2.4 million-square-foot auto factory. It is being built on about 2,200 acres off Interstate 85 on the east side of West Point, minutes from LaGrange and less than an hour from Columbus.

"I think the community was really looking forward to some kind of positive announcement to get this business in Troup County," Lindner said. "So I know everybody's very, very delighted this morning."

Hyundai Mobis dates to 1977 and is the largest auto parts manufacturer in Korea, with factories around the world, including China, Slovakia and the Czech Republic. Another is planned in India, according to a release from Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue's office. This will be the firm's third U.S. plant, with others in Montgomery, Ala., and Toledo, Ohio.

The parts company is expected to invest $70 million into its 310,000-square-foot facility, with construction beginning this fall. The facility will be located on the main Kia site, employing 600 workers who will make front-end modules, front-rolling chassis modules, rear-chassis modules and cockpit modules, as well as front and rear bumpers.

"This new facility aligns with Hyundai Mobis' strategy to support Kia's growth as well as our own," Heeman Rhyoo, president of Mobis Georgia LLC, said in a statement. "The Georgia plant will be an important element of our global presence, and we look forward to a long and productive future here."

The main Kia plant, with a price tag topping $1 billion, is scheduled to begin production in 2009. Though no models have been announced, it is expected to churn out roughly 300,000 vehicles annually.

The Hyundai Mobis announcement is important on several fronts, but none more important than solid proof that jobs are on the way.

"Signing the first supplier for Kia's Georgia operation is an important milestone for the economy of West Point and for our state," Perdue said.

"It's wonderful. It's all coming together," said Jane Fryer, president of the LaGrange-Troup County Chamber of Commerce. "That's the joy of seeing the suppliers now start to announce that they're coming. It just shows that Kia's really going to happen. So many people still think that it's not."

Another sign that the economic auto engine is revving up, Fryer said, is the recent arrival of Kia executives' families from Korea. Nearly 20 families have already arrived in the LaGrange-West Point area, with another 20 expected within a month. Cultural differences are evident.

"They're shy and they're brand new to this country, and they don't speak good English," she said. "So they're very hesitant to speak to anyone."

Fryer, too, sees the pace of announcements by auto suppliers picking up after, literally, months of negotiations between the firms and organizations such as the West Point Development Authority, which led the Hyundai Mobis effort.

The suppliers "are running out of time to get started on building their plants," she said. "They've got to get started building by the first of '08. So I think all of them that we're dealing with... are trying to make their decisions now. I think that this will be the first of several that will be announced very soon."