Phil Bolton for GlobalAtlanta
There was no question about Hyundai-Kia Automotive Group Chairman Chung Mong-koo being on the job in Georgia Friday, Oct. 20, despite his legal problems back home in Korea and his reportedly poor health.

Accompanied by a platoon of Hyundai and Kia officials including his son, Kia President Chung Eui-sun, the chairman attended the groundbreaking ceremony for the Kia Motors Corp. plant to be built in West Point. Kia Motors is an affiliate of the Hyundai Automotive Group.

During the ceremony, Gov. Sonny Perdue called Kia Motors’ first-ever U.S. manufacturing facility “the single largest economic development project in the state of Georgia.”

“If we are acting as if this is a big deal, it is,” he said, adding that the project marked a “rebirth” for the area which had since the end of the Civil War was dependent on the textile industry, but now would become a center for “high tech and innovative work.”

He also thanked some 30 landowners for agreeing to sell their properties, some of whom, he said, had lived there all their lives.

The morning ceremony and luncheon for the groundbreaking was attended by about 200 local and state officials and company representatives.

Besides Gov. Perdue, speakers included Mr. Chung, Korea’s Consul General in Atlanta Lee Kwang-jae, Commissioner of the Georgia Department of Economic Development Craig Lesser and Troup County Commission Chairman Tim Duffey.

Mr. Chung said that once the $1.2 billion plant was built, Kia would be able to localize all of its operations in the United States. Hyundai and Kia have a quality control and emissions lab in Chino, Calif.; a design center in Irvine, Calif.; a proving ground in the Mojave Desert community of California City, a technical center in Superior Township, Mich., and the Hyundai plant in Montgomery, Ala., that was opened last year.

Mr. Lee said the investment provided “an expanding relationship that will be mutually beneficial for both countries.” He also thanked the United States for helping Korea develop its prosperity, and mentioned the two countries’ efforts to work together in solving the diplomatic crisis presented by the nuclear testing in North Korea.

The ceremony was originally to have been held on April 27, but was postponed because of a slush fund scandal and Chairman Chung’s arrest.

Mr. Chung was released on bail in July, but still is being tried on corruption charges. He also told reporters at the Incheon International Airport in Korea before flying to Atlanta, that his health was “not good.”

The new plant to be completed in 2009 is to have an annual output of 300,000 unites. By the time that Kias start rolling out of the Georgia plant, the volume of the firm’s overseas production is expected to total more than 1 million vehicles. Kia also has two plants in China and a plant in Slovakia.

Last year Kia produced more than 1 million vehicles in Korea.

For more information about the groundbreaking ceremony, call Bert Brantley at (404) 962-4830.