Tuesday, March 17, 2009

LaGrange/Troupe County: The Kia Effect

Just a few years ago Troup County, the westernmost county in Georgia along Interstate 85, could claim the title of former textile capital of Georgia, and not much else when it came to major-league economic development.

Now, although there are a couple of textile manufacturers still operating in the county, the story out of Troup is international automotive manufacturing in the form of South Korea-based Kia. While Kia isn’t the only thing happening in Troup County, not by a long shot, the advent of the Kia plant is one of those defining moments for the entire region. Things are discussed in “before Kia” and “after Kia” terms. This after Kia time is very exciting.

For the few people in Georgia who aren’t familiar with the Kia story, here’s a brief recap. A Kia plant is currently under construction in West Point, along Interstate 85 at the new Exit 6 interchange. When complete, Kia will directly employ 2,500 people. Its suppliers, also getting up and running, will employ an additional 3,000 plus. Kia is an enormous project, not just for West Point, which has a population of only 3,300, but, as everyone in Troup County says, for the entire region.

Kia, with the support of Georgia’s Quick Start program, took applications for hourly positions in the spring. They received 43,000 applications for 2,500 jobs in 30 days through the online process. Those hired will be provided with training, around the country and in Korea, and the first cars will roll off the line for sale in November 2009. Once two full shifts are up and running, by late 2010, some 300,000 units will be manufactured each year.

The Kia announcement brought an onslaught of activity from suppliers and others eager to be part of the growth that’s coming to the region. Several Tier 1 suppliers (those companies that supply products directly to Kia) have announced plans or have moved into the area, says Diethard Lindner, chairman of the Development Authority of La-Grange. “We had a new industrial park put together right before Kia announced,” Lindner says. “It was perfect timing.”

The new park is Callaway South Industrial Park, where Sewon Amer-ica Inc., Kia’s largest supplier, announced it would locate with a $170 million investment. When up and running, Sewon will employ 700 people to manufacture the major metal framework for the Kia automobiles, Lindner says.

Residential Boom
On a countywide scale, people are preparing for growth, not just from Kia and its suppliers, but also from the Department of Defense’s Base Realignment and Closure Commis-sion (BRAC), which made decisions that will result in a population increase at Fort Benning in nearby Columbus of 35,000 people. Also adding to the mix: sprawl creeping south from Atlanta. County leaders have taken several steps to ensure quality growth in the area, including a moratorium on residential development that was due to be lifted in July.

“We know the number of jobs,” says Ricky Wolfe, Troup County Commission chairman, speaking of Kia and its suppliers, “but where the people will live remains to be seen.” The feeling is that due to the increasing cost of fuel, those who can choose will live in Troup County. But, Wolfe admits, “Kia will draw from Newnan to Montgomery.”

New communities such as Bryant Lake LaGrange are catering to the cry for natural amenities, offering a mix of lakeside trails and greenspace parks, with homes ranging from the $170s to $300s.

LaGrange/Troup County

(2008 Estimate)
Troup County, 63,245; LaGrange, 27,652; West Point, 3,354; Hogansville, 2,909

(May 2008)
Troup County, 7.9 percent; Georgia, 5.6 percent

Largest Employers
Troup County Schools, 1,807; Milliken Floor Covering, 1,660;Wal-Mart (distribution center), 1,600; West Georgia Health System, 1,336; InterfaceFLOR, 1,080

LaGrange-Troup County Chamber of Commerce, Georgia Dept. of Labor .

The Kia plant is one of the very few bright sopts here in the state as the state is taking a beating in job losses because of the recession. I was one of those people who applied to work at the Kia Plant, hoping my welding experience will come in handy.

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