Kia Motors will hire another 1,000 workers in West Point, the Korean automaker announced Thursday, offering a huge boost to Georgia’s nascent economic recovery and a sign that the state’s battered manufacturing industry is poised for a rebound.
Kia, which began selling the Georgia-made Sorento crossover earlier this year, currently employs 2,000 people. More than 100,000 Sorentos have been sold, underscoring the vehicle’s popularity.
“By opening our third wave of hiring, we are building on that foundation and increasing our commitment to the U.S. and the local economy,” Byung Mo Ahn, CEO of Kia Motors America, said in a statement.
Kia is remaking Troup County, home to West Point, LaGrange, Kia and a passel of auto suppliers. Its investment, though, didn’t come cheaply. Local, state and federal taxpayers put up $469 million in land, buildings and tax breaks to lure Kia to west Georgia.
The Koreans are returning the investment favor. Roughly 1,200 employees were hired in 2008 when Kia began putting together a workforce. Nearby auto suppliers have since added roughly 5,000 jobs.
Last summer, the Seoul-based automotive giant moved production of the Hyundai Santa Fe across the state line from Alabama to West Point. The addition of a second shift pushed employment up to 1,900. A Kia spokeswoman said Thursday a third Kia vehicle will also be built in West Point.
By this time next year, 3,000 men and women could be building Sorentos and Santa Fes and further transforming the once-robust textile region along the Chattahoochee River where unemployment remains greater than 11 percent.
“God, what a blessing it was that Kia hit at the right time because we had a lot of textile mills closing,” LaGrange Mayor Jeff Lukken said. “This means a flurry of activity, more retail, more people for our schools and LaGrange College and more activity on West Point Lake. It just helps us come out of this recession much faster than the rest of the country.”
Kia helps restore some of Georgia’s tarnished manufacturing luster. A decade ago, nearly 527,000 Georgians made things. Roughly 200,000 of those jobs have been lost to other countries and the recession that shuttered more and more factories.
Economists like Jeff Humphreys, though, see something of a manufacturing renaissance for Georgia. Earlier this week, for example, Gulfstream Aerospace announced another 1,000 jobs in Savannah.
“We’ve finally turned the corner in terms of job losses. We’ve staunched the wounds and started to replace the jobs we’ve lost,” said Humphreys, director of the University of Georgia's Selig Center for Economic Growth. “Manufacturing is helping Georgia’s economy shift from powerful headwinds to a slight tailwind. We’re no longer going to under perform the national economy in 2011.”
Go on-line -- www.kiajobsingeorgia.com – to apply for a Kia job.