First, Gov. Nathan Deal announced that Kia Motors, which he noted is one of the fastest-growing auto companies in the United States, plans to make “major investments in additional machinery, equipment and production upgrades for the future.” This results from the Korean-based company’s apparently rousing success since opening its first North American facility on more than 2,000 acres at West Point in November 2009. The plant, employing thousands of workers from Georgia and Alabama, now has the capacity to turn out 360,000 vehicles a year.
“The wave of economic impact created by Kia’s presence in Georgia goes far beyond the 10,000-plus jobs the company and its suppliers have created and will underpin the region’s economy for generations to come,” Deal said.
It’s a success story that is bittersweet. Yes, it’s terrific to have 10,000 jobs generated by a Georgia-based auto manufacturing operation. State officials deserve credit for bringing Kia to our state instead of all the competing locations eager to get such a trophy in the no-holds-barred fight for economic development.
But it’s also sad that while foreign auto makers like Kia have found ways to produce their vehicles and prosper, American companies have closed their plants in Georgia. Remember the big Ford plant at Hapeville? It opened in 1947 in the post World War II boom and closed in 2006. A similar fate befell the General Motors plant in Doraville, opened in 1947 and closed in 2008. What a shame that these facilities with their thousands of jobs could not survive but on the heels of their closings, Kia could come in and succeed. But that’s the new ballgame.
Another move by Gov. Deal this week could redound to Georgia’s benefit economically. He announced “a comprehensive assessment of economic development opportunities at Georgia’s military base establishments and their surrounding communities.” The goal is to develop a “long-term strategy to prepare for any future Base Closure Realignment Commission examinations” and ensure that the defense industry “remains a healthy pillar of Georgia’s economy,” Deal said.
Considering that our bases are always at risk of closing, especially now with the Obama administration at the controls, the Governor’s Defense Initiative is essential for the future in more ways than one. Deal said the new effort will be led by William L. Ball, former Secretary of the Navy under President Ronald Reagan, and T. Rogers Wade, former president of Georgia Public Policy Foundation. Both men have the credentials to make this initiative work.
Many Georgians may be unaware of the huge scope of defense spending and employment in this state: three Army bases, two Air Force bases, a Navy base and a Marine base, employing 25,000 and ranking Georgia among the top five states with an economic impact of about $20 billion.
That’s worth fighting for. Deal’s initiative is on target.