Both new and established manufacturers from South Korea, which is making up an increasing portion of Georgia’s foreign-investment dollars, are contributing to the state’s COVID-19 response in varied ways.
SK Innovation, which is in the process of investing in two factories making lithium-ion batteries for vehicles Jackson County, has donated $400,000 toward Augusta University’s coronavirus response, which includes a mobile app that uses telemedicine to screen potential new cases.
SK’s donation will help cover expenses associated with physicians and professionals at the university’s public medical school providing free virtual consultations, as well as backing 11 drive-thru testing sites.
SK recently announced it would increase its investment in Georgia from $1.7 billion to $2.5 billion as it builds a second factory on its site in Commerce, Ga. All told, the company will plans to employ more than 2,000 people in the state.
Shortly after announcing the August University app as a key resource in the state’s fight against COVID-19, Gov. Brian Kemp thanked the company, which he visited on an economic development trip to Seoul last June.
“I want to thank both SK innovation and the dedicated team at Augusta University for their incredible contributions as our state continues to fight COVID-19,” said Governor Kemp. “We are all in this together, and from the beginning, SK innovation has proven itself a valuable partner to Georgia. Increased, streamlined testing is paramount, and this donation will help further enhance our screening capacity and help keep Georgians safe.”
Meanwhile, during a shutdown at Kia Motors Manufacturing Georgia in April, the Korean auto maker recruited paid volunteers from among its workers to assemble face shields to be delivered by “Telluriders” — a play on the name of the company’s new SUV, the Telluride — to hospitals in Georgia, California, Illinois and beyond. Kia’s production goal was 300,000 units, roughly the same number of cars the factory churns out per year.
In addition to a $1 million donation to nonprofits that support homeless youth, the auto maker kicked in $20,000 to the Technical College System of Georgia (TCSG) Foundation Emergency Response Fund. The fund is aimed a supporting students facing potential disruptions due to the sudden transition to online learning forced by COVID-19. Kia is also a major backer of the THINC College and Career Academy in Troup County, having staunchly supported local workforce initiatives in its more than a decade operating in the state.
Supplying some of the materials for the face shields is SKC, a manufacturer of plastic films for food packaging, medical and a wide variety of industries.
The company’s plant in Covington early on fielded a wide variety of sometimes-unorthodox orders from around the country early on in the pandemic, instituting a plan to keep production in place even while allowing workers to stay home where possible. SKC also made available — with the help of Coca-Cola Co. — the raw material for face shields being assembled at Georgia Tech labs with 3D printers.
The moves come as the Korean government has sought to share its lessons in containing COVID-19 with the world. Despite recent flare-ups after reopening in early May, the government has been able to tame an outbreak that made it the second global hotspot after China.
The not-so-secret approach, according to a paper circulated May 13 by the Korean Consulate General in Atlanta,was built around what the government is calling the three T’s: test, trace and treat.
When the virus first emerged in the city of Daegu, Korea instituted an aggressive testing plan that led to relatively quick emergence of drive-thru sites like those in Georgia SK Innovation is now backing.
For treatment, public health officials separated COVID-19 patients based on the severity and type of symptoms, allowing hospitals to allocate resources where most needed.
Korea has also used mobile technology to track location data of people with known cases and has made it public, along with notification systems alerting citizens to potential exposure. The country never instituted a blanket travel ban, instead phasing in targeted measures based on origin, rolling back visa waivers and eventually quarantining all foreign entrants.
Korea’s relative success — 11,503 cases and 271 deaths from COVID-19 — has been lauded around the world as an example of how democracies can retain their focus on societal openness while still moving decisively during public health emergencies.