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.
That’s the lowest since 1990, the report said.
State officials have said that manufacturing only accounts for 10 percent of Georgia’s jobs but that the raw numbers belie the sector’s importance as a multiplier.
By proportion, more jobs trickle down from manufacturing than any other sector, so when it suffers, the ripples are felt more severely.
It hasn’t been all good news for Kia suppliers in Georgia.
DongNam Tech, another South Korean company, was slated to invest $29 million and create 350 jobs at a floor mat and cargo liner manufacturing facility in Columbus.
DongNam, based in South Korea, was acquired late last year by NVH Korea Inc. NVH Korea decided to pull out of Columbus.
“It was heartbreaking, but there was nothing that we could’ve done to prevent them from acquiring that company,” said Becca Hardin, executive vice president for economic development at the Greater Columbus Chamber of Commerce.
Mr. Jackson said DongNam’s absence won’t disrupt Kia’s supply for those components.
Kia has a varied portfolio of suppliers for most parts to combat potential disruptions in its supply chain. Many parts will be imported from South Korea and other countries.
The Georgia facility, Kia’s first plant in the U.S., will employ a logistics-intensive “Just in Time” method by which parts arrive at the plant when they need to be installed into the vehicles, said company spokeswoman Joanne Mabrey.
“It’s a lot easier if you can get the parts when you need them, not to have to stockpile them,” she said.
The auto industry is moving toward this method rather than dealing with the overhead costs associated with storing parts, she said.
Suppliers of some vital components are located on the Kia site. Mobis Georgia LLC, which makes front-end chassis and other parts, will feed those into the Kia facility through a conveyor system.
Powertech America will make transmissions on the Kia site and send them directly over to the Mobis facility.
Glovis Georgia LLC will provide parts sequencing and inventory management, Ms. Mabrey said.
All three are subsidiaries of South Korea-based companies that are part of the Hyundai-Kia Automotive Group.
Randy Jackson will be giving an update on the Kia plant's progress at a Feb. 9 dinner. Sign up here.