Governor, Kia chairman tout opening of first North American manufacturing plant in west Ga.

Gov. Sonny Perdue joined Korean and American dignitaries in celebrating the opening of Kia’s first North American manufacturing facility in west Georgia Friday.

“This is a momentous day for Georgia as Kia Motors has brought thousands of new jobs to this area and is truly delivering as tremendous corporate citizen,” Perdue said at an opening event attended by Sen. Saxby Chambliss and other dignitaries who heard a keynote speech from Hyundai-Kia Automotive Group chairman and CEO Chung Mong Koo.

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Perdue and Chung announced that Kia would come to Georgia four years ago.

Speaking in halting English at the West Point opening, Chung told the crowd of about 500 executives from Kia offices in the U.S. and Korea that the plant will be part of an industry rebirth.

“I believe the plant will play a leading role in the revitalization of the entire American auto industry,” he said.

Randy Jackson, the plant’s vice president of human resources and administration, said the company is still accepting applicants for the second shift, which will probably start running in July.

Jackson said the company so far has received 30,000 applications for second shift jobs and is still accepting them.

“Our goal is to put 1,000 or 1,200 more (employees) in the building” for the second shift, he said.

The Kia Motors Manufacturing Georgia Plant was touted as a $1 billion investment in the state that would create 2,500 jobs. The 2,200-acre site is the home of the new Kia Sorento crossover SUV and at full capacity, the facility will be able to produce 300,000 vehicles a year.

The plant’s economic impact to Georgia is estimated at about $4 billion a year and could bring 20,000 new jobs to a nine-county region by 2012.

Perdue called bringing the plant to Georgia one of his greatest accomplishments as governor.

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