'This is God's handiwork': Bryan County residents, officials react to Hyundai plant announcement

ajc.com

Credit: Richard Burkhart/Savannah Morning News

Credit: Richard Burkhart/Savannah Morning News

Jennifer Fichthorn's home is off Highway 80, just minutes away from the Bryan County megasite where Hyundai Motor Company plans to manufacture their line of electric vehicles on nearly 3,000 acres.

When she moved to the area more than two decades ago, there was little-to-no traffic in her neighborhood. With a toddler and neighbors that have small children, Fichthorn worries the site will add more speedsters and traffic to an area that was relatively quiet when she got there.

“I’m worried about what my neighborhood is going to look like,” said Fichthorn. “I’ve called the state to get the speed limit lowered and they promised me they would do a speed study for the road.”

Gov. Brian Kemp announced Friday Hyundai would build its first EV plant in the United States in Ellabell. Kemp was joined by President and CEO of Hyundai Motor Company Jay Chang, President and COO of Hyundai Motor Company José Muñoz and other local and state leaders in front of a large crowd at the mega site.

ajc.com

Credit: Richard Burkhart/Savannah Morning News

Credit: Richard Burkhart/Savannah Morning News

“We are proud to welcome Hyundai Motor Group to Georgia as we forge an innovative future together," said Kemp. "From initial conversations on my economic development mission to Korea to Georgia’s investment in the Bryan County megasite, we've been preparing for an opportunity like this for a long time.

"My commitment to hardworking Georgians to make our state the best place to live, work and raise our families remains steadfast, and with this announcement, which is now the largest economic development project in our state's history, we will continue working to make Georgia the premier destination for quality companies who are creating the jobs of today, tomorrow and beyond.”

'Can't shut the gate after you come in': Residents in Bryan, Effingham counties wrestle with growth

Chang said he embraced the idea of building the plant in the United States because the country “embraces change." “This new EV plant is the future of our business and it will help us meet the growing demands of our U.S. customers who want leading edge design, safe, zero-emissions vehicles now and in the future,” said Chang.

While many tout it as gamechanger, Fichthorn questions whether Bryan County has a plan in place to house and school thousands of new residents.

ajc.com

Credit: Richard Burkhart/Savannah Morning News

Credit: Richard Burkhart/Savannah Morning News

“I’m more concerned about what it is going to do to the public school system,” she said. “My worry is the county is going to try to make this an industrial area and not plan to house any of those people in this area. Then all of that money leaves the county and we have to deal with the fallout of all of them commuting in.”

Fichthorn went on to say she does not think there is equal representation within the county, saying the south end benefits more from county tax dollars.

“It’s not being well thought out,” said Fichthorn. “My other worry is while this may look good on paper, what kind of tax deficit is the county going to take? You know there’s got to be some sweet deal where they are not paying taxes for x number of years. Does that mean our services in northern Bryan County are going to get worse than what it already is? It is not an equal distribution of tax money. They just keep dropping our representation.”

'Great news for the (Bryan County) economy'

Some residents think the site should be celebrated. Jason Frantz, who is in the Army, said better wages, benefits and a meaningful career will give people a sense of belonging.

“Yes, you are going to see an increase in traffic between trucks and cars going to and from,” said Frantz. “But I think you are going to see more revenue as far as tax dollars coming through Bryan County because of this. I think the job market is going to open up. I think it is going to benefit people with less education to the upper end because they will need to hire management. I think it is going to be great for the area itself.”

Keith MacCants moved to Bryan County from Warner Robins on Dec. 1. and thinks the car manufacturer will benefit residents on both ends of the county.

“The new plant coming to Bryan County is great news for the economy and for surrounding counties as well,” said MacCants. “It'll reinvigorate the rural areas over in this part of the state. Although it may increase the already growing population of Bryan County, as well as Effingham County, it will also help spur more economic growth in the region.”

ajc.com

Credit: Richard Burkhart/Savannah Morning News

Credit: Richard Burkhart/Savannah Morning News

Chairman for the Bryan County Commissioners Carter Infinger called it a “great day” for the county and the state. “I think it’s going to change the look of north Bryan County for the better and bring a lot of residents some great paying jobs,” said Infinger.

Wesley Corbitt, chairman at large for the Effingham County Board of Commissioners, sees it as a turning point for the region.

Here are their 3 top-of-mind issues: Effingham County leaders met to discuss growth

“Things like this that the Governor supports for this area is a huge win for the whole region,” said Corbitt. “It’s going to bring more jobs, people and voters, and it keeps South Georgia viable in so many ways.”

The plant is a massive project that will require all hands-on deck, including assistance from local schools.

ajc.com

Credit: Richard Burkhart/Savannah Morning News

Credit: Richard Burkhart/Savannah Morning News

“All the technical colleges within 60 miles will be heavily involved,” said Trip Tollison, President and CEO of the Savannah Economic Development Authority. “We're going to need engineers, people on the line and executive folks. I mean, you think it's like hiring a small city, right? And so it's going to be a little bit of everything. Savannah Tech, Ogeechee Tech, Georgia Southern, SCAD and others will be involved.”

Production is slated for January 2025. A groundbreaking date is still in the works, but crews will start turning dirt in a couple months.

“There will be all kinds of activity going on, starting in July,” said Tollison. “And you'll see a lot of folks coming over from Korea and you'll see a lot of site prep starting. It's going to be a highly sophisticated plant.”

Tollison described the development as a miracle.

ajc.com

Credit: Richard Burkhart/Savannah Morning News

Credit: Richard Burkhart/Savannah Morning News

“This is God's handiwork,” said Tollison. “I don't know how to describe it because this is the project that we've always wanted all along. It checks all the boxes. We could not have found a more perfect fit, not just for the site, but for the region and the communities that surround it.”

Latrice Williams is a general assignment reporter covering Bryan and Effingham County. She can be reached at lwilliams6@gannett.com.

This article originally appeared on Savannah Morning News: 'This is God's handiwork': Bryan County residents, officials react to Hyundai plant announcement