A Hyundai Ioniq Electric. [Image: Jakob Härter / Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 2.0)]

Hyundai, Kia Manufacturing Boost Georgia Economy and Cultural Ties

Korea Asia

Korean automaker Hyundai broke ground on a new EV factory in Georgia, bringing cross-cultural experiences between Americans and Koreans in Georgia.

In Spring 2022, Hyundai Motor Group, operating in Georgia since 2006 with its first plant in West Point , announced plans to build a second automotive factory in the state. The potential location of the factor was along Interstate 16 near Savannah. Hyundai plans to start production from the new factory by January 2025, and broke ground on Tuesday, October 26, 2022. It will build electric vehicles (EV), joining American EV manufacturer Rivian. The factory will provide jobs for an estimated 8,500 people and is expected to produce around 300,000 cars per year.

Hyundai began selling cars in the United States in February 1986, and began manufacturing them in Georgia twenty years later. At the time, Georgia proved unpopular to foreign automakers as they chose neighboring states like Tennessee and Alabama for their factories. Many states desire the presence of auto factories because they bring billions of dollars' worth of investment, thousands of middle-class jobs, and spinoff jobs from a number of suppliers.

In the past, communities in Georgia have helped welcome South Korean families socially and culturally. Take the experience of Troup County, Georgia when Kia opened up a factory in 2005. A liaison officer helped the families locate housing, find schools for their children, and meet doctors. While some families complained there were limited shopping opportunities for clothes and other goods in rural Georgia compared to South Korea, the families enjoyed the opportunity to learn English and participate in the 5-day school week, compared to 6 days in South Korea. Additionally, the ability to learn English in Georgia were much easier for children and especially the parents given that private tutors in South Korea are expensive.

Additionally, the Christian faith of the newly arrived families, and the church-going culture of Georgia was an easy avenue towards becoming part of the community. Approximately five local Korean churches have been established to serve the Korean community. For the Troup County civic leaders and local officials, they received tutoring in Korean customs and business etiquette, Kia flew them to South Korea to expose them to Korean culture, and some 800 Kia employees received training in Korea.

The 2020 Census indicated more than 71,000 Korean-Americans currently reside in Georgia. The majority of Koreans live and work in the Fulton, Dekalb, and Gwinnett counties, encompassing the Atlanta Metropolitan Area. A variety of festivals and events like the Atlanta Korean Festival, are hosted yearly, bridging cultural ties between Georgia and Korea. Additionally, daily direct flights from Atlanta to Seoul via Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport make travel for business, leisure, and educational opportunities easier.

A new Hyundai factory, in addition to its economic benefits and incentives it brings to Georgia, adds to a vibrant and growing connection between the state of Georgia and South Korea; one that will continue to form into the future.

Niles Rodgers is an Intern at the East-West Center in Washington. He graduated with a Master's degree in Asian Studies from George Washington University, and is a native of the DMV region.