Fast Lane

GaBiz Editor in Chief discusses the state’s recent automotive manufacturing boom with President and Chief Executive Officer of Kia Georgia Stuart Countess.

In the wake of major automotive manufacturing announcements—including Rivian bringing 7,500 jobs to Morgan and Walton counties and Hyundai Motor Group making a record-breaking $5.54 billion investment for 8,1000 jobs—Georgia’s economy is buzzing. Kia was the pioneer. In 2006, the Korean automaker announced the then-largest $1.9 billion investment to build a plant in West Point, laying the groundwork for future growth around the state. Since then the Georgia-made vehicles have grown to represent more than 50 percent of the Kia products sold in the United States and have helped provide proof-of-concept that Georgia is a smart location for the industry to set up shop. Here, Kia Georgia President and CEO Stuart Countess shares some of the state’s big wins and keys to growth for the future.

Georgia has had some major auto manufacturing announcements recently. What does it mean that Kia was first?
I think the story of Kia’s success in Georgia is pivotal in the growth of our industry, highlighted by the recent announcements. From Kia’s perspective, there is a pride in demonstrating that a start-up operation can compete on a world stage with the appropriate education and mindset for success. I think the Kia story is significant in the state’s ability to promote the effectiveness of its agencies and relationships with businesses considering Georgia as a home, especially in automotive. While negotiations are an important part of promoting our state, the demonstrated results of partnerships and business relationships are what build confidence in a company’s decision to locate in Georgia.

The challenges in hiring a skilled workforce are well known. How do some of the programs in Georgia help?
Georgia has a very developed and versatile set of resources to aid employers with workforce development. Georgia Quick Start’s ability to assess an employer’s needs and develop training programs provides an invaluable service.

Quick Start’s coordination with the Department of Labor to locate and attract available applicants streamlines the hiring and screening processes to allow employers to source needed workers in a timely manner. The flexibility of the Technical College System of Georgia is the push that takes business from the “red zone” into the end zone. Its comprehensive network of campuses across our state provides the ability to understand the long-term needs of each region and develop vocational courses and programs that are enhanced by on-the-job development.

Kia Georgia has firsthand experience with the coordination of Quick Start and TCSG through the deployment of its Maintenance Certification Program. After Quick Start developed the scope of a customized training assessment and structure for maintenance applicants, the program transitioned to the local campus of the TCSG. West Georgia Technical College has since enrolled 85 Kia Georgia participants and added the program to its public curriculum.

How has Kia’s work with TCSG set the standard for workplace readiness and skilled labor training programs?
The Technical College System of Georgia has been a tremendous partner for Kia since day one with its efforts to develop the state’s workforce through its career pathways and also through Georgia Quick Start.

In the very beginning, Quick Start traveled the globe in an effort to make the Kia Georgia Training Center the “gold standard.” From maintenance to production, Quick Start and the Kia Georgia Training Center became the starting point for the transformation from a workforce focused largely on textiles to a high-tech automotive workforce that would deliver countless awards for quality and reliability in the years ahead. In conjunction with the development of the training, Quick Start also took charge of Kia Georgia’s application process, deploying the auto industry’s first exclusively online application platform, generating more than 43,000 applications in just 30 days.

What are Georgia’s biggest assets for the auto manufacturing industry?
Georgia has a complete package of resources that are attractive to business in general, especially the automotive industry. The Department of Economic Development is a central component of a diverse and capable group of state resources, business and trade organizations, and educational partners that, together, can meet the needs and expectations of any business looking for a startup or relocation.

When businesses look at Georgia…they see partnerships and relationships that work closely to support each other for common success. The Georgia Chamber and its network of local chambers across the state, trade organizations, and alliances with transportation and logistics all working together to provide a comprehensive “warehouse” of available resources that are bound by a common goal of creating jobs and successful businesses in the state.

Lastly, our world becomes much smaller and interlinked as global trade increases. Companies are becoming more streamlined and lean in their processes, becoming more dependent on a reliable supply chain and logistics coordination. Having the resources of Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, along with the fastest-growing port system in the world are huge compliments to the benefits of maintaining operations in the state. The Georgia Ports Authority has had a dramatic impact on shipping and logistics across the Southeast and is growing into the Midwest regions through its vision and flexibility as a logistics partner.

Everyone’s talking about the electric vehicle industry. What are some key factors the state will need to prioritize to make Georgia EV-friendly?
It’s certainly an interesting and transitional time in the automotive industry, with the push towards alternative energy sources and the growing consideration of EVs.

Kia is taking steps to become a leader in the new era of mobility solutions by focusing on EV development and providing a variety of products and services to resolve customers’ mobility needs.

EV use as a primary option for commuting and transportation of goods will require supporting services in maintenance of vehicles, charging technology, and emergency services, just to name a few.

Governor Kemp’s administration has been actively working with experts in the related businesses and fields of study, including full-scale initiatives focused on how to ensure that Georgia is ready and able to support EV use within the state. Through his leadership, Georgia is moving quickly to accomplish those purposes through the work of the Electric Mobility and Innovation Alliance (EMIA), which is tasked with the goal of creating an electric mobility ecosystem. The EMIA is designed to provide a comprehensive assessment and approach to long-term and sustainable use of EV products in Georgia.