Randy Jackson at Korea Southeast U.S. chamber event

Every vehicle that is manufactured at the Kia plant in West Point will be test driven before it goes to market, Randy Jackson, director of human resources and administration for Kia Motors Manufacturing Georgia Inc., said in Atlanta Feb. 9.

Mr. Jackson called this decision a precedent in the auto industry and reflective of Kia’s total commitment to manufacturing quality vehicles. Some 300,000 vehicles are to be manufactured at the facility annually.

He was the featured speaker during a dinner of the Korea-Southeast U.S. Chamber of Commerce held at the Atlantic Station law offices of chamber member Nelson Mullins Riley and Scarborough LLP.

The facility is to manufacture a new model SUV. But when Mr. Jackson was asked to describe the model, he declined, saying that it still was somewhat premature to do so.

A native Georgian, Mr. Jackson used baseball metaphors to express his confidence in the progress of the manufacturing facility and its suppliers.

The project would be a “home run,” he promised. But its advance would be based on “singles” including a sophisticated hiring practice and rigorous training of new employees.

With Georgia’s unemployment rate now exceeding 8 percent, Mr. Jackson’s remarks were welcomed by the attendees as they warmed to his praise of the state’s Quick Start job training programs and the prospects of jobs paying from $15 to $27 an hour in a part of the state that has been particularly hard hit by the collapse of its textile industry.

A former general manager of human resources and administration for Toyota Motor North America Inc., he took no evident pleasure in noting that Toyota’s U.S. sales had decreased last month by 34.4 percent in comparison to January 2008.

He wasn’t constrained, however, from pointing out that Kia Motors America Inc., the company’s marketing arm, had announced an increase of 3.5 percent in sales of its vehicles in comparison to January 2008.

Mr. Jackson also reminisced about the days at Toyota when it was considered OK for a parts supplier to be within 100 miles of a manufacturing facility. Those days are over, he said, as some Kia suppliers are constructing their facilities adjacent to the 2 million-square-foot assembly facility on the 3,300-acre site near the Alabama border.

Mobis Georgia LLC, which makes front-end chassis and other parts, is connected to the facility by a conveyor belt allowing for “Just in Time” delivery. Glovis Georgia LLC, which is to provide parts sequencing an inventory management, also is on the Kia site.

The dinner was held the same day that Sewon America Inc., a Korean supplier, which will provide chassis and body components for Kia from a new 420,000-square-foot plant in LaGrange, held a job fair.

More than 1,000 people came to the fair for the 300 jobs that are to be filled at Sewon by the end of the year. Mr. Jackson said that some of the applicants had gotten in line at 1 a.m., seven hours ahead of the 8 a.m. opening.

A year ago, Mr. Jackson began hiring for Kia jobs online. In a 30-day period, he said that he received some 43,000 applications for 2,500 job openings. Some 75 percent of the applicants were from Georgia, 15-20 percent from Alabama and the remainder from elsewhere.

He described the rigorous training program that those selected undergo including 40 hours of training before they receive a job offer and then once accepted a period of intensive training at Kia facilities in Korea.

Trials for the new vehicles, he said, are to begin in April, and the individual testing to continue afterwards.

“We will be checking every process and will be fine tuning all the time,” he added, referring to his baseball analogy that the fundamentals of the four “m’s,” machines, methods, manpower and materials, are sound and continuously improving.

“Continuous improvement is in our DNA,” he said. “We will be making small steps all the time, hitting singles.”

The home runs are to begin, however, at the end of the year when all the activities of the suppliers and the facility are in tune and the production process begins, he said.

To learn more about the chamber’s activities, send an email to its president, Randy Cardoza, at president@koreasoutheastchamber.com