Earlier this year, Georgia Governor Nathan Deal announced that Wells Lighting, a light manufacturing company based in South Korea, has chosen Georgia as the location for its North American headquarters. The company will locate its operations in the city of Millen, Georgia, investing $30 million into an already-standing 92,000 square foot building. The building will house the company’s headquarters, R&D facilities, and be the manufacturing center for a new line of LED lighting products. It is expected to add 200 jobs to the community.
Georgia was chosen by the company in part because of the state’s already extensive ties with Korea and Korean businesses. Since 1985, Georgia has had a representative presence in Korea to promote growth between Korea and the state. Initiatives have arisen from both sides. In 2011, Governor Deal visited Korea as part of a trade mission to Asia. In 2012, the Korea Chamber of Commerce & Industry sent an 11-company delegation on a trade mission to Georgia, where they met with Georgia businesses and Governor Deal.
There are over 50 Korean-owned facilities operating in Georgia, employing over 5,000 Georgians, especially in automotive manufacturing. In 2013, Hyundai invested in a $35 million facility in the state. Kia Motors, which is owned by Hyundai, has the largest presence in the state, with investments totaling over $1.5 billion. In 2012, Kia began a 16-year plan to further develop the massive assembly plant it operates in West Point, GA. In March of this year, it expanded sales of its Soul EV electric automobile into five US states, including Georgia. All told, Kia’s Georgia operations, along with supplier jobs it has generated, are estimated to have created over 14,000 jobs in the state.
Cultural connections are also growing between Georgia and Korea. Last October, two Georgian cities, LaGrange and Suwanee, held Korean cultural festivals. Four Georgian cities have sister partnerships with cities in Korea, and many Koreans call Georgia home. As of 2012, Georgia’s Korean-American population was estimated at over 60,000 residents. Atlanta is ranked as having the fifth largest Korean-American population of any city in the US.
Chad Westra is a Research Intern at the East-West Center in Washington and an undergraduate student at Calvin College.