Despite record manufacturing lows and unemployment highs in Georgia, Kia Motors and its suppliers continue to train and hire employees throughout the state.

The South Korean automaker’s first U.S. plant is still on track to produce SUVs in West Point by late November or early December, Randy Jackson, director of human resources and administration for Kia Motors Manufacturing Georgia Inc., told GlobalAtlanta.

“We’re still hanging our hat on that launch date late this year,” he said.

Sewon America Inc., a major supplier that will provide chassis and body components for Kia from a new 420,000-square-foot plant in LaGrange, announced Feb. 2 that it will accept applications for 600 positions Feb. 9-11.

The employees will be trained through a partnership between West Georgia Technical College and Georgia Quick Start, the state’s workforce training agency.

Quick Start is managing the training process for Kia and all of its Georgia-based suppliers, a total of 9,000 workers including 2,500 at the Kia plant and 6,500 more at supplier plants, Mr. Jackson said.

Four suppliers that landed in Alabama, outside of Quick Start’s jurisdiction, are creating about a thousand more jobs, he added.

Jackie Rohosky, Quick Start’s director, said the agency finds itself in unfamiliar territory with the Kia project.  It has never had to coordinate such a massive, collaborative training effort with such high stakes.

Employees must be trained and critical supplier plants online by early December, or Kia won’t be able to produce vehicles, Ms. Rohosky told state legislators at a conference on manufacturing Dec. 4.

“If the suppliers aren’t successful, then Kia won’t be successful because it’s all integrated together,” she said at the time.

Mr. Jackson said Quick Start has exceeded expectations and that the agency is the best of its kind that he’s worked with.  Mr. Jackson worked for Toyota Motor Corp. in Kentucky and Mercedes-Benz in Alabama before joining Kia.

“I think Quick Start’s got their bar a little higher” than other state training agencies, he said.

Kia’s optimism comes at a dismal time for Georgia manufacturers as a whole.

The statewide unemployment rate eclipsed 8 percent in December, the highest it has been in nearly 26 years, according to the Georgia Department of Labor.

From November to December, the state’s manufacturing employment level dropped 18.2 points to settle at 20.5 on a monthly index released by the Econometric Center in Kennesaw State University’s Coles College of Business. 

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