Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp and U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross joined company officials, legislators and diplomats for a groundbreaking ceremony on the Korean investment that is set to become the largest ever foreign deal for the state.
SK Innovation announced earlier this year that it would put a $1.67 billion electric vehicle battery factory in Jackson County, about 65 miles northeast of Atlanta. If realized, the deal would eclipse even the massive Kia Motors plant, another Korean infusion, in capital spending for a single project. SK says its plant will create 2,000 jobs at full strength.
“I thank SK Innovation for this historic investment in our state, which will provide immeasurable economic opportunity for thousands of Georgia families. I look forward to working together in the years to come to strengthen our relationship and ensure a brighter future for Georgia,” Mr. Kemp said in a statement.
The groundbreaking marked the second time in a year that Mr. Ross has come to Georgia to mark major foreign-direct investment projects. He also helped inaugurate Canadian firm Irving Consumer Products’ $400 million tissue factory.
Mr. Ross said such deals are validation that the Trump administration’s strategy to drive investment in the U.S. is working.
“We are driving innovation to all parts of the United States,” he was slated to say at the groundbreaking, according to a copy of his prepared remarks.
Another (related) way to read it is that uncertainty over tariffs is driving some foreign companies to hedge their risk by producing locally. Commerce in mid-February presented to President Donald Trump a report on threat of imported cars to the national security of the United States.
The report has not yet been made public, and Mr. Trump has yet to make an official determination on whether to slap new levies of up to 25 percent on imported cars — a move that a coalition of foreign auto makers including Hyundai and Kia have urged against. Mr. Trump reportedly has until May to make a final decision. [Read: SK Innovation to Invest $1.67B in Georgia as Threat of Auto Tariffs Looms]
In his remarks, Mr. Ross focused in on the potential of the electric vehicle market, praising the progressive leadership of SK Innovation, which is part of of the SK Group, one of Korea’s largest conglomerates with interests in chemicals, oil, telecommunications, semiconductors and more.
He said electric vehicles are a growth area in a well-established industry.
“Your selecting this location that is close to so many great automobile producers means that you will be able to take advantage of one of the fastest growing markets for electric vehicles in the world,” Mr. Ross said.
“Last year, there were 360,000 new electric vehicles sold in the United States, an increase of 80 percent in one year. Globally, last year, electric vehicle sales surged to more than 2 million units, and they are projected to increase to almost 4 million in 2020.”
He added that the investment is a testament both to Georgia’s workforce and to U.S.-Korea relations, a fact reflected in that Korean Ambassador Cho Yoon-je’s attendance at the groundbreaking. Mr. Cho had visited the Kia plant in West Point earlier in the week as part of a roadshow with his U.S. counterpart in Seoul, Ambassador Harry Harris.
Korean executives attending the event included Jun Kim, CEO and president of SK Innovation; and Jae-won Chey, executive vice chairman.
Congressman Doug Collins, a Republican from Georgia’s ninth district, was also on hand for the groundbreaking.