As Kia Motors held the ceremonial grand opening of its West Point plant Friday, executives said the Korean car maker is “well positioned” for future U.S. growth.
Of course, no matter how prepared, it never hurts to have a little luck backing up a billion-dollar investment.
Kia’s first U.S. factory began making Sorento SUVs in November at 7777 Kia Parkway. Callers looking to reach the plant by phone must dial (706) 902-7777.
To local Koreans, the slew of sevens is no fluke.
“We prefer to use the seven as meaning ‘lucky’ or ‘fortune,'” said Jay Eun, president of the Korean-American Association of Greater Atlanta.
Koreans try to snag sevens for “telephone numbers, room numbers, anything,” Mr. Eun said, adding that they avoid the number four with the same urgency they pursue seven. In China, from which Korea inherited many customs, the word for “four” sounds like the word for “death,” he said.
Grace Lee, a reporter for the Korea Daily newspaper in Atlanta, said she’s unsure why Koreans associate seven with fortune.
“The Chinese like eight, but Korean people love seven. I don’t know why,” said Ms. Lee, who speculated that Kia chose the number because “they wanted more luck in the United States.”
Joanne Mabrey, a spokeswoman for Kia Motors Manufacturing Georgia, said luck is exactly what the company was looking for. But Ms. Mabrey appealed to the soft spot Americans – not Koreans – have for the serendipitous seven.
“As our first U.S. site, we want good American luck. That is how we chose the lucky sevens,” Ms. Mabrey said.
Ask West Point residents, and they might call themselves the lucky ones. A former mill town about 80 miles south of Atlanta, West Point faced soaring unemployment and a dismal economic outlook before Kia decided to put its massive factory on a 2,200-acre plot in a Troup County pasture. The 2.2 million-square-foot facility represents a $1.2 billion investment that will create 2,500 jobs. Parts suppliers, many of them Korean firms, are expected to add about 7,500 jobs throughout the state.
Craig Lesser, commissioner for the Georgia Department of Economic Development while the Kia deal was in negotiations, remembers leading Mong-koo Chung out into that pasture on a dreary, rain-soaked day in 2006.
With all the technical issues finished, Mr. Chung, chairman of the Hyundai-Kia Automotive Group, had to issue his stamp of approval for the site, Mr. Lesser said.
Sheltered from the rain, the two men sat in a hillside tent looking at picture boards of what the site would become once construction was complete.
It finally came time for Mr. Chung to see the site first hand.
“We went outside, and it’s one of those things you don’t believe unless you’re there,” Mr. Lesser said. “On this rainy, cold, cloudy day, he and I walk outside and the sun comes out.”
Was fortune smiling on them? Possibly, Mr. Lesser says. In any case, Mr. Chung was wearing a grin.
“He just smiled and gave a big thumbs up and I knew we were moving in the right direction, that we were going to close the deal,” Mr. Lesser told GlobalAtlanta.
Mr. Chung, on hand for the grand opening event, read his three-page speech in English, though he doesn’t speak the language. Mr. Lesser called the speech an “incredible courtesy to the American audience,” who rewarded Mr. Chung with a standing ovation.
For more information on the grand opening and Kia’s growth prospects, please see GlobalAtlanta’s coverage here.