West Georgia beginning to reap Kia investment

West Georgia is beginning to reap what promises to be lucrative, long-term rewards from the huge local, state and federal investment in Kia Motors.

Sales and property tax receipts are rising. Construction, retail and auto-supplier jobs are jumping. New homes and businesses pop up on both sides of the Chattahoochee River.

Kia, which began building Sorento crossover vehicles at its West Point plant last October, will hold its “grand opening ceremony” next Friday. Gov. Sonny Perdue is expected to join Mong Koo Chung, chairman of the Hyundai-Kia Automotive Group, and other dignitaries for the event.

Locals, though, aren’t waiting to celebrate.

“We have met at least twice a week since the second week of January with regional and national developers evaluating opportunities here,” West Point Mayor Drew Ferguson IV said Wednesday. “And there’s a variety of smaller businesses that have taken hold, which is remarkable given the overall state of the economy.”

Ferguson counts 23 new businesses, including restaurants, a tax preparation office and a bakery, that have opened in West Point the last 19 months. Earlier this week, Troup County Commissioners reported that Kia’s property generated $1.8 million in taxes last year. Three years earlier, it added only $45,587 to the county’s tax rolls.

And, finally, the region’s unemployment rate is dropping. Last November, 12.9 percent of Troup County’s workers didn’t have a job. A month later, the rate had dropped to 12.7 percent, though still one of the highest rates in Georgia.

Kia and its suppliers are expected to make a serious dent in the jobless numbers. More than 1,200 people already build Sorentos at the massive auto plant off Interstate 85. The Korean automaker and its suppliers will invest roughly $2 billion and create 5,300 jobs, according to Kia and the Georgia Department of Economic Development.

Economic salvation, though, isn’t cheap. Local, state and federal tax breaks, incentives, land, buildings and more for Kia alone cost $469 million – or $195,417 per job -- according to an Atlanta Journal Constitution analysis.

Economists, though, say the investments will pay off handsomely for Georgia. A Georgia Tech study cites more than 20,000 jobs, including construction and service-industry work, by 2012 for the nine-county region surrounding West Point.

The Greater Valley Group (GVG), a real estate development company, has $100 million worth of residential and commercial construction under way on both sides of the Chattahoochee. Construction, mostly on the Alabama side of the river, is already under way.

“Kia set the wheels in motion for all this development and GVG is running with it,” said Mike Rieman, who does public relations for the company.

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