FOREIGN DIRECT INVESTMENT
From Kentucky Economic Development Guide 2024
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‘Strategically, the Right Location’

Foreign Direct Investment
In 2023, Gov. Andy Beshear joined leaders from Korea-based INFAC to break ground on the company’s EV-related expansion in Campbellsville.
Photo courtesy of the Kentucky Office of the Governor

by Mark Arend
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or a state with a population of about 4.5 million, Kentucky is home to an astonishing number of international employers. Global Business Alliance, which tracks foreign direct investment into the U.S., estimates the Bluegrass State hosts nearly 740 international companies employing more than 140,000 workers, 62% of whom work in manufacturing. 

What’s more, Kentucky has the highest percentage of FDI jobs as a percentage of total employment, at 8.6%, of all its neighboring states. More than 30 countries are represented in Kentucky with business operations with Japan, Germany and Canada contributing the most to the state’s international employment rolls. 

Toyota Motor Manufacturing Kentucky’s roughly 9,500 workers have been making a variety of vehicles, including the Toyota Camry in Georgetown since 1988. More recent FDI projects include Canada’s Kruger Packaging, which invested $114 million and created 150 jobs in Hardin County in 2021; France’s Pernod Ricard, which invested $196 million and created 55 jobs in Marion County in 2022; and Korea’s Advanced Nano Products, which invested $50 million and created 93 full-time jobs in Hardin County the same year.

Also based in Korea, INFAC North America since 2008 has been supplying horns, control cables and other components to such OEMs as Hyundai Motor Manufacturing Alabama and Kia Motor Manufacturing Georgia from its only North American facility, in Campbellsville. Already employing 120, a soon-to-open expansion will add 200 more jobs to the site. 

Kentucky Feels Like Home

While other states were considered for the expansion project, Kentucky was selected for three main reasons. 

Jay Choi, senior executive vice president, INFAC Corp., explained: “It was strategically the right location. Being centrally located, it was easy to get to customers in the North, in Michigan, Illinois, and Ontario, and in the South, in Alabama and Georgia. Second, Kentucky has a great labor force with competitive rates. We found that this region had a more diligent workforce with a good work ethic at very competitive labor cost compared to some other states we were considering.

“Third, [state] government and its agencies are easy to work with,” he added. “After considering the location and labor force, we narrowed it down to a couple of states. Kentucky government officials to work with, and they genuinely cared about potential investors. They helped us in many ways to make the process easier and provided us with information on available tax incentives and how to utilize the training programs that could support the launch of our business in Kentucky.”

Sixteen years later, those factors still apply. But INFAC still conducted its due diligence on other locations for the expansion.  

“When we were considering a possible second location in U.S., we reviewed some other locations again,” he said. “We concluded it would be much better to expand within Campbellsville. Our building expansion will be completed in a few weeks, and our team will be busy filling it with new equipment, and training employees with new skill sets for the new projects.”

Today, INFAC North America actively supports recruitment to Kentucky of other Korean companies.

“As the first Korean company to locate in Kentucky, we proudly recommend Kentucky to many Korean companies, especially those in the automotive sector,” said Choi. “So far, we have introduced about a dozen Korean companies to Kentucky, and we are actively talking to a couple of suppliers of ours to consider Kentucky as their U.S. locations.”

A European Perspective

How is Kentucky perceived elsewhere in the world as a destination for capital investment? Finn Weisse, the Kentucky Cabinet for Economic Development’s executive director in its European Representative Office, in Hamburg, Germany, weighed in.

 

KYFDI24-1

INFAC North America’s facility in Campbellsville

Photo courtesy of INFAC North America

 

“It very much depends on the industry,” he said “For example, when talking to investors from the automotive or metals industry — or any industry that feeds into these industries or manufacturing processes such as automation — Kentucky is very present because of its strengths in these areas and all the prominent companies that we already have in Kentucky, which many times are existing customers or suppliers. However, we can always raise awareness with our central location within one of the world’s strongest markets for many products. But we can also raise awareness with our own Kentucky made products. 

“Looking from a European automotive perspective,” added Weisse, “Kentucky seems to be a great case study for how the automotive industry is evolving and preparing itself for the future. The fact that this evolvement to EV mobility is possible so quickly in a small state such as Kentucky certainly raises awareness and will do so in the future.”

Weisse said European capital investors tend to consider U.S. locations and their neighboring states when evaluating sites.

“For them, there aren’t many differentiators between us and our neighbors,” he explained. “Having lived in and experienced Kentucky, I can talk about my personal experience working for an internationally owned entity in the commonwealth and how welcomed we were as an international family. I can also report that Kentucky is much more international than most people would expect. 

“Kentucky has a lot more to offer than most people in Europe can fathom,” Weisse added. “Whether it’s in the North, South, East or West, we can offer great metropolitan and rural areas. Whether the company wants to find a small community where they can make a difference or be in one of our cities, most of the time, we will be able to offer a great choice of potential locations. Kentucky is friendly, open for business and service-oriented. If we can get the companies to come and visit, they can feel that.” 

Mark Arend
Editor Emmeritus of Site Selection magazine

Mark Arend

Mark Arend is editor emeritus of Site Selection, and previously served as editor in chief from 2001 to 2023. Prior to joining the editorial staff in 1997, he worked for 10 years in New York City at Wall Street Computer Review, ABA Banking Journal and Global Investment Technology. Mark graduated from the University of Hartford (Conn.) in 1985 and lives near Atlanta, Georgia.

 





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