SK Battery America has hired 200 people after weathering immigration disputes during construction.

SK Battery’s north Georgia plant remains on schedule despite recent setbacks including a pending dispute that could eventually hamper the growth of the massive electric-vehicle battery complex.

The subsidiary of Korea-based SK Innovation has already hired 200 people at the first of two planned plants in Commerce, Ga., where it has committed to investing a total of $2.6 billion and hiring more than 2,600 workers by 2024.  

The first plant is 90 percent complete and is set to begin pilot production during the second half of 2021. The company plans to issue $986 million in “green bonds” to pay for the construction of the second facility.  

Meanwhile, SK is the subject of a complaint at the U.S. International Trade Commission by Korean rival LG Chem, which alleges that SK’s battery cells and components are made using trade secrets gained unlawfully from former LG Chem employees. (LG Chem, which recently spun off its battery unit into a separate entity called LG Energy Solution, has an office in Buckhead.) 

The ITC made an initial determination in LG’s favor last year and was slated to issue a final ruling in October. The decision was delayed until Feb. 10 without explanation. A negative ruling could result in SK being banned from importing its batteries, as well as the cells and components used in making them, potentially stalling EV projects at U.S. customers like Ford and Volkswagen.   

SK was confident that regardless of the dispute’s outcome, its plans in the U.S. were on solid footing, noting that an array of suppliers have already begun to set up shop near the new facility.  

“SK Innovation remains confident in its case before the ITC and that it will prevail. We also continue to move forward so that we can make the batteries our customers need and create the jobs for the Georgia economy. Nothing has changed or will change to that commitment,” an SK spokesperson told Global Atlanta in a statement.  

Immigration issues have also dogged the plant over the last year. Allegations surfaced in 2020 that the company’s subcontractors were bringing in Korean workers with fraudulent employment letters during the construction phase, potentially displacing local workers. Thirteen Korean citizens working at the plant were taken into custody in September, four months after U.S. Customs and Border Protection blocked 33 Koreans destined to work at the plant from entry at the Atlanta airport.  

SK, which was not handling construction directly, pledged cooperation with authorities and said it required all subcontractors on the site to comply with U.S. immigration laws, adding that more than 1,000 Americans were employed in the building of the first facility. SK later installed a checkpoint where immigration documents were checked daily upon entry into the site.  

Economic development leaders have praised SK, which received a $300.3 million incentives package from the state, as being at the vanguard of a new electric-vehicle industry cluster adding even more heft to its already strong auto industry.  

SK Battery says it is also creating employment opportunities upstream, with suppliers Enchem, EcoPro BM, Dongwon Tech and TopTech all setting up shop in the state.  

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...