Mayor Kwon Young-jin

Atlanta wasn’t their final destination, but while passing through, a delegation from the city of Daegu, Korea, seized the chance to rekindle ties with its sister city struck 35 years ago. 

Headlined by Mayor Kwon Young-jin, the group’s main business really lay beyond the Georgia capital.

First, after arriving in on a 15-hour nonstop flight from Seoul, they were slated to travel to Alabama to visit with some of the Korean auto parts suppliers that hail from the city of 2.5 million people and supply the Hyundai and Kia plants in Georgia and Alabama, respectively. 

A string of Korean factories, many of them from tier-one suppliers from both brands, have set up along the Interstate 85 corridor between Montgomery, Ala., and West Point, Ga., over the last decade.

Sewon America, subsidiary of the Daegu-based Sewon Group, has hired more than 600 people in a plant opened in 2008 with an initial investment of more than $170 million to make chassis and body components. Later, they expanded to the tune of $10 million as Kia continued to gain U.S. market share.   

A-Jin Industrial Co., another metal stamping company also from Daegu, invested $89 million in a Cusseta, Ala., plant that it said would hire 450 people. Both represent the metal and machinery industries, which along with textiles have formed Daegu’s industrial backbone. The city, also a former textile hub, is also aiming to transform itself into a creative nexus with a strong fashion sector.

Representatives of Ajin — along with an economic development official from the city of Auburn, Ala., which is home to many Korean expat families — joined Mr. Kwon for a lunch at Midtown’s Ponce City Market before the group met with City of Atlanta Chief Operating Officer Daniel Gordon.

They would later head to Alabama. Leaders of the Korea Southeast-US Chamber of Commerce, which has played a role in linking up the auto suppliers and other Korean investors in Georgia, also joined the group. 

Ultimately, though, Daegu’s leaders were in the United States to travel to New Orleans, where they planned to attend water efficiency conference WEFTEC to promote their newest target industry: water technology.

Backed by the national government, Daegu is set to invest about $250 million in the Korea Water Cluster, an area that broke ground last year within a national industrial park to house research centers, water-related companies and testing sites. The city hosted the seventh World Water Forum last year and in October will host Korea International Water Week. Construction on the cluster is slated to be completed by 2018.

Both industries — auto and water — point to a chance to rekindle the friendship struck between the cities of Daegu and Atlanta in 1981, said Young-chul (Charlie) Bae, head of international relations for the city. 

“Still, geographically, its is located far away, so we need to strengthen the exchanges more,” Mr. Bae told Global Atlanta. 

Daegu tends to work more closely with its sister cities in Japan and China, which are easier to reach, but Mr. Bae said more could be done to capitalize off of the economic links already existing, especially given the strong air links between Atlanta and Seoul, which Delta Air Lines Inc. just announced it would begin serving with a nonstop flight next June. 

“It is up to our local business people,” he said. 

Mr. Kwon declined an interview, saving his energy after the long flight for a meeting with Atlanta city officials. He would miss the chance to meet his counterpart, Kasim Reed, for the second time. The two were slated to talk at the World Cities Summit in Singapore  in July, but Mr. Reed was unable to attend.

As managing editor of Global Atlanta, Trevor has spent 15+ years reporting on Atlanta’s ties with the world. An avid traveler, he has undertaken trips to 30+ countries to uncover stories on the perils...