Sewon President D. H. “Eugene” Kim and his associates had welcomed the authority members and guests with warm tea to fortify them for their hike through the cavernous, wind-chilled plant.
Outside, snow glistened on a gigantic earthen berm that separates the modern, blue-trimmed plant entrance from Sewon Boulevard. The newly paved street winds over rolling, wooded hills, including a 60-acre virgin poplar forest, designated by the Callaway Foundation as a “tree save” area to remain green space “forever.”
“What I have trouble conveying,” Lindner said, surveying the bustling scene, “is the degree of transformation that has happened here. It’s just amazing, but hard to express.”
Barely 10 months ago, groundbreaking ceremonies were held at a site that was bare dirt - and a whole lot of underground rocks. Since then tons of rocks have been blasted, the road has been built and water, sewer, telecommunications and electrical services installed. More than 1.5 million cubic yards of dirt were moved.
The development authority underwrote the infrastructure development, which will serve the potential 700-plus-acre Callaway South site, not just the 62.5 acres occupied by Sewon. On one end, Sewon Boulevard ties to Glen Long Road in the LaGrange Industrial Park and on the other it links to the extension of Pegasus Parkway now nearing completion by the Georgia Department of Transportation as the first phase of the South Loop.
Together, the connecting roads will be a tremendous improvement in both access to existing industries and opportunities for future industrial development, said Ray Coulombe, economic development management for the city of LaGrange and development authority.
“It really opens up the Callaway South site and makes it viable for future development,” Coulombe said.
Proximity to the LaGrange-Callaway Airport and easy access to Interstate 85 via Pegasus Parkway are other pluses.
Since the May 2 groundbreaking, the 421,000-square-foot plant has steadily taken shape. Divided into two sections - one for welding assembly , the other for stamping presses - the plant will make exterior panels for vehicles to be built at the Kia Motors plant, just 11 miles away in West Point. Construction at $170 million Sewon America plant will be essentially complete this month, and trial production will begin in May.
The first 17 local Sewon hires have been in Korea for training since mid-December and are due back March 17. About that same time, more than 40 Korean supervisory staffers will relocate here, most to stay an estimated one to two years, Kim said. Other workers - as many as 475 now, up to 700 at full production - are being hired from a throng of more than 3,000 who flocked to a job fair at West Georgia Technical College last month.
Last week, a massive “heavy hauler” delivered the first of five huge presses that will stamp parts - doors, fenders, hoods and more. Pride bubbles in the voice of Kim as he describes the fully, automated, state-of-the-art equipment, built in Japan and transported by ship to the port of Savannah. The heaviest of the five presses weighs 2,500 tons but can be operated by a single worker with, as Kim put it, “very unique skills.”
The development authority tour was designed to give decision-makers a better understanding of the projects taking shape under their watch, Coulombe said. The two-hour outing included a stop at Sejong, another Tier 1 Kia supplier located in the former Federal Mogul building on Lukken Industrial Drive. The facility had been vacant for about two years when Sejong chose it for its LaGrange plant.
Manager Jay Kwan showed members around the remodeled building, opened in the 1980s by A.E. Goetze. It will produce exhaust systems for Kia, “everything from the manifold to the end of the car,” Kwan said.
The plant will use components made in Korea initially, but hopes eventually to attract local suppliers. At full production, Sejong will have about 250 workers, Kwan said. Hourly wages will be in the $9.50 range, with maintenance workers earning more, he said.
Trial production will begin in April and continue until the Kia plant opens in November. The company also plans to locate its corporate offices, including procurement, at its LaGrange facility. Furniture purchases for the now-empty office areas are planned this week.
Sejong also has a plant in Fort Deposit, Ala., which supplies the Hyundai plant in Montgomery, Ala.
That facility typically has two shifts and 150 workers, but is down to 100 on one shift due to the downturn in the automobile market, Kwan said.
Andrea Lovejoy can be reached at editor@ lagrangenews.com or (706) 884-7311, Ext. 237.