By Georgia Department of Economic Development
Georgia’s largest economic development project to date demonstrates how longstanding relationships can lead to the greatest success stories.
Over two decades ago, the Kia Georgia automobile manufacturing plant opened in West Point, Georgia, delivering not only thousands of high-quality jobs to a rural community, but also attracting numerous suppliers to the region. Over a five-year period, the company’s investment revitalized the community, and helped the company reach new goals. New product lines have been announced, including most recently the highly anticipated Kia EV9 SUV starting 2024. The essential factors that led to the location’s success are resources Georgia has in abundance: partnership and workforce. These are uniquely exhibited through the state-of-the-art 70,000-square-foot Kia Georgia Training Center, developed to provide advanced industrial training for employees in collaboration with the Technical College System of Georgia.
Not only has this approach proved successful, it played a major role in a speedy six-month negotiation period leading to Hyundai Motor Group’s plan for the $5.54 billion electric vehicle Metaplant at the Bryan County Megasite near Savannah, Georgia. Hyundai Motor Group Metaplant America (HMGMA) has remained on the fast track, breaking ground on the facility five months after its announcement. This new OEM is already anchoring a supplier network worth an estimated $2 billion that extends across coastal Georgia, with more suppliers expected to locate in other corners of the state.
New Ecosystems, One Partner at a Time
In Commerce, Georgia, SK Battery America’s (SKBA) 2018-announced facility is also thriving. As of January 2023, not only were batteries being shipped to customers, but the company was two years ahead of schedule to meet its hiring goal of 2,600 employees. Over the next year, SKBA plans to further expand its workforce to handle growing market demand at its two existing lithium-ion (Li-ion) battery manufacturing facilities.
Following SK Battery America’s opening, Li-ion battery recycling and engineered materials startup Ascend Elements also announced a new facility in Georgia in January 2022. Within months, the company confirmed a partnership with SKBA. When Ascend Elements celebrated its grand opening only a year later, it had already attained a full 50 percent of its hiring goal ahead of schedule, leading the company to announce a workforce expansion beyond its original plans. Battery manufacturers and recyclers alike have continued to add to Georgia’s growing ecosystems, contributing unique solutions to serve a market niche. This includes global leader Aurubis, which will focus on recycling copper and other precious metals for sustainable technologies such as electric vehicles, batteries, and solar panels.
An existing advantage in the solar manufacturing industry is also cementing Georgia’s place on the cutting-edge of the generational transformation of clean energy. Qcells North America, an affiliate of Korean-based Hanwha, began solar panel production in northeast Georgia in 2019. The company has seen accelerated growth since then, announcing major expansions of the original facility and an additional $2 billion facility in a nearby county. Suppliers have also begun to locate in the area.
The state is adapting for a seamless transition to sustainable technology by fostering fully integrated ecosystems through its support for organic partnerships. While growth during the past five years has been rapid, Georgia has continued to meet company needs, thanks to years of foresight and investment in speed-to-market solutions for businesses. These solutions range from megasites capable of supporting OEMs and their suppliers, pre-certified “Georgia Ready for Accelerated Development” sites that fast-track construction timelines, and developing workforce pipelines and training through the Technical College System of Georgia, College and Career Academies, tapping into the large population of veterans, and through more traditional methods.
Dynamic Talent Delivers Innovation
The growth of e-mobility extends to the aerospace industry, which has traditionally been drawn to Georgia for the highly qualified talent produced at its research universities. Archer Aviation has announced a new state-of-the-art electric vertical takeoff and landing aircraft (eVTOL) manufacturing facility located alongside one of Georgia’s nine regional commercial airports in Covington, Georgia.
Universities like the Georgia Institute of Technology and the University of Georgia draw companies to the Atlanta region, where creating research and development (R&D) space can provide opportunities for collaboration and innovation.
For instance, Anduril Industries acquired then Marietta-based Area-I as a way to enter Georgia’s aerospace market. The company reinforced the public-private partnerships that had been developed through years of working with the Georgia Center of Innovation’s aerospace industry team. Anduril elected to transform two buildings near Georgia Tech’s Tech Square in Midtown into mixed-use office, R&D, manufacturing, and production space.
Other industries competing for talent, such as life sciences, are also selecting locations with direct access to well-developed pipelines. Georgia’s life science organizations also work closely with research universities. In addition to nurturing new innovation, universities also present an advantage in life science manufacturing by providing talent specialized in smart factories and artificial intelligence, which are transforming the manufacturing process.
Georgia’s technology and software development talent is as diverse as it is well-educated. Cisco and Micron Technology each cited diversity as part of their decisions to locate in Atlanta. Georgia took steps early to expand internet access across the state to allow companies and employees more choices for where they can live and work. This continued expansion is opening doors to vibrant communities in every region of the state, many of which are investing in arts programming, film locations, and tourism to increase their residents’ quality of life.
Developing the Right Mix
Communities across the state are intentional in pursuing diversity in their local business mix, creating opportunities for both new companies and the growth of existing industry. The State of Georgia’s marketing arm, the Georgia Department of Economic Development, works with communities to identify strategic markets for growth and hone their existing resources for interested companies.
These teams develop complementary industries within the state. The state’s No. 1 industry, agriculture, provides a steady basis for food processing. Companies can source ingredients at lower costs, and the growth of controlled-environment agriculture is increasing the variety of products grown in Georgia.
The Technical College System of Georgia and Georgia Quick Start prepare the workforce with both customized training as well as holistic, concept-based manufacturing training to educate employees on the “bigger picture” of their role within a system, in turn providing employers with capable, informed team members who are ready to perform at a high level and lead with confidence. This broader education also equips Georgians with transferrable skills that make them more capable of crossing industries. Further, Quick Start’s training programs identify opportunities to upskill workers across industries, leading to a nimbler workforce.
Companies prioritizing logistics are not limited to Atlanta and the world’s busiest commercial airport. Coastal communities offer access to both the fastest-growing port in the nation in Savannah and the Port of Brunswick, which is the second-busiest port in the U.S. for total Ro/Ro cargo. Communities located more centrally in the state are connected through an inland port system that boosts the use of rail cargo transportation.
Why does Georgia continue to set records for new jobs and investments? Ultimately, the story is simple: business finds solutions in Georgia.