Georgia makes push for British auto plant

Fresh off the recent Mercedes-Benz’ U.S. headquarters win, the state of Georgia is making a major push to land a factory from British auto giant Jaguar Land Rover, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution has learned.

Four people with knowledge of the situation said Gov. Nathan Deal and state economic development commissioner Chris Carr met with representatives of the luxury automaker during a secretive trade mission to the United Kingdom last month.

Jaguar Land Rover, owned by Tata Motors of India, makes Jaguar luxury cars and Land Rover luxury SUVs.

Jaguar Land Rover did not confirm its interest in Georgia, but said in a statement that it “has ambitions to expand its international manufacturing footprint,” noting its recent factory opening in China and a plant under development in Brazil.

The Sunday Times of London reported late last year that Southern states, in particular South Carolina, were under consideration for a factory that could produce 200,000 vehicles per year.

The recruitment of the respected British auto brands, if successful, would add to a stable of car companies with major Georgia ties. In addition to the massive Kia plant in west Georgia and the new Mercedes U.S. corporate hub, Porsche Cars North America is nearing completion of its headquarters and test track near Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport.

The Jaguar Land Rover talks were said to involve industrial property in South Georgia, but an exact location isn’t clear.

The governor’s office declined to comment about specific economic development prospects. But Chris Riley, Deal’s chief of staff, said Georgia is always in the market to lure auto manufacturers and suppliers.

“Any job, any time, this governor stands ready and willing to pitch Georgia,” Riley said.

The Jaguar and Land Rover brands have been buoyed by strong sales in North America and China.

Just last month, Jaguar Land Rover announced plans to expand production in the U.K., and add 1,300 new jobs, as it advances development of lighter-weight vehicles made out of aluminum.

The governor’s office was unusually tight-lipped about last month’s mission, initially refusing to tell reporters where he went. The secrecy contributed to headlines nationwide about Georgia’s “missing” governor. Since Deal’s return, he has only confirmed that he met with British film studio giant Pinewood, which has a new studio in Fayette County.

An automotive hub

The gravity of auto manufacturing has been shifting south for decades, drawn by low business costs, a largely non-unionized workforce and ample incentives.

State economic development officials said recently that more than 120 auto companies have invested more than $5 billion in Georgia in the past six years. Automotive companies employ 18,000 people in the state.

Georgia lost Ford and General Motors plants last decade, but won the first U.S. manufacturing plant from Korean automaker Kia. That recruitment came with hundreds of millions of dollars in local, state and federal incentives.

Other carmakers have also planted flags in the South. For instance, Hyundai and Mercedes both have plants in Alabama, BMW has a factory in South Carolina and Tennessee has both Nissan and Volkswagen manufacturing centers.

Auto plants are highly coveted for the high-paying jobs they create and the potential for thousands more spinoff jobs from suppliers.

A bidding war is likely for a factory from Jaguar Land Rover. The people who spoke to the AJC did so under condition of anonymity due to the sensitive nature of the negotiations. They said a decision by the auto company could come within a couple months.

HQ Central

In January, Mercedes-Benz USA announced plans to move its corporate hub from New Jersey to metro Atlanta. Mercedes-Benz USA CEO Steve Cannon and Deal announced Tuesday that the site will be in Sandy Springs.

Mercedes plans a 250,000-square-foot office building on a 12-acre slice of the Glenridge Hall property on Abernathy Road near Ga. 400. The office complex will anchor a planned residential and retail project to be developed by homebuilder Ashton Woods.

Mercedes plans to relocate or create 800 to 1,000 jobs, Cannon said in an interview, with about 50 to 60 percent of them expected to be local hires. The jobs are likely to be mostly in finance, marketing, sales, engineering and other administrative roles.

Cannon said the first wave of sales, marketing and senior executives will move this summer to temporary offices at Sterling Pointe in Dunwoody near Perimeter Mall. A second wave of workers will join in 2017 when the new complex opens.

Cannon said the company is moving because of Georgia’s lower cost business climate and to tap into the region’s millennial talent. The company also recently expanded its manufacturing capacity in Alabama and has a plant under development in Mexico.

Sprinter Vans, a corporate cousin under parent company Daimler AG, has reportedly scouted Georgia as part of its plan to expand North American manufacturing. Cannon declined to comment on that.

Cannon said he’s not sure if other carmakers might move their U.S. offices, but he said demographic trends favor Southern states — something all consumer brands consider.

“If you want to stay close to your customer,” he said, “that’s a great move.”

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