he term “advanced manufacturing” is fast becoming redundant. Whether a company makes rivets or rockets, buttons or batteries, it likely used AI, robotics, additive manufacturing or any number of other advanced processes in the research, development or assembly of those products. A logical question on the minds of site selectors in the manufacturing industry is whether an area is better at supporting large, high-end manufacturers with complex workforce and equipment requirements, or smaller companies looking to build a better mousetrap using state-of-the-art technology that wasn’t available a few years ago. The real test for locations looking to attract investment from advanced manufacturers is if they can appeal to both.
As capital investment activity rebounds, and sectors like electric vehicles and green energy systems take off, project pipelines are filling up with next-generation facility and workforce requirements from companies of all sizes that locations must quickly demonstrate they can satisfy, or they risk losing that investment.
Georgia is being put to that test in recent weeks with manufacturers large and small turning to the state for locations in which to compete in their sectors successfully. Ultimately, whether the Peach State passes the test is for the companies to determine. Hyundai Motor Group will open a $5.5 billion, 8,100-job EV and battery complex in Bryan County in 2025, where it will use some of its advanced intelligent manufacturing technologies currently in testing at the Group’s innovation hub, including intelligent A.I.-equipped manufacturing and data-driven processes.
Georgia Governor Brian Kemp and Hyundai Motor Company President and CEO Jay Chang finalize the South Korean auto giant’s selection of a site in Bryan County for an EV and battery complex that is the Peach State’s largest capital investment project to date.
Photo courtesy of the Office of the Governor
Aspen Aerogels, a leading provider of aerogel-based sustainability and electrification solutions, plans to construct a $325 million, 250-job advanced manufacturing facility in Bulloch County that is designed to triple its aerogel capacity in support of the Aspen’s thermal barrier expansion plans in the EV market. Both locations are in rural southeastern Georgia; they and nearby counties will soon see about $1 billion in additional investment and thousands of jobs from Hyundai suppliers.
Can the state and region meet the challenge?
On the state side, winning these projects — as well as the $5 billion, 7,500-job Rivian EV project east of Atlanta and many others — is largely about available, suitable sites and Georgia’s Quick Start workforce development program and the Technical College System of Georgia. But there’s more to it than that.
“When a company invests $100 million into a rural economy, the impact of that is exponential — it’s generational in that it changes families and communities,” says Pat Wilson, Georgia’s Commissioner of Economic Development. “These are high-end manufacturing jobs that allow students to graduate from their local school system, get a job and a skill and stay in that community. That’s what this rebirth of manufacturing across Georgia is doing.”
States’ ability to deliver intangibles that drive speed to market, especially in the EV and advanced manufacturing space, is critical, says Wilson. “What has changed is the speed of these projects. It’s lightening quick to be investing $5.5 billion, starting in October and having a site in March or April. Five or eight years ago, a $1-billion project would take a year or two to navigate through the system. Especially around automotive, batteries, EVs’ entire supply chain, our projects are moving at an unbelievable speed.”
What does the Hyundai EV and battery manufacturing complex near Savannah mean regionally?
“This is a transformative project that will have a major impact on the economic landscape for generations to come,” says Trip Tollison, president and CEO of the Savannah Economic Development Authority. As for the 8,200 jobs it will entail, “We will see several pathways provide the talent we need to make this project successful. One is we have a very large active military presence in the area — about 34,000 active troops within 60 miles of this project. We’re seeing anywhere from 350 to 500 folks exit the military every month. Over 75% of those exiting the military stay in the region. They love the quality of life here. When they leave the military, they already are trained with skill sets.”
The area is affordable and will be attractive to people around the Southeast who appreciate the region’s quality of life, adds Tollison. “The net migration figures will have a lot to do with that. And the underemployed looking to take their wage earning to a new level will be another supply of workers.”
At press time, a state-of-the-art training facility was on the drawing board but had not yet been finalized.
“Whenever an area lands an advanced manufacturing project of this size, it dramatically changes the GDP of the region,” Tollison notes. “This will take the region to a whole new level.” Tollison says the region will deliver much of what Hyundai will require in advanced manufacturing talent: “We have more than 70,000 students within 60 miles of the site that are in some sort of post-secondary education program, which is incredible for a region our size. Georgia Southern University, which is 30 minutes from the site, has one of the few advanced manufacturing engineering programs in the country, and when you see what Savannah College of Art and Design is doing in industrial engineering, there are incredible opportunities for partnerships. Add in Georgia Tech and its campus in Savannah and the University of Georgia and Savannah State University and I have no doubt there will be a lot of opportunities for synergy with Hyundai.”
Small and mid-sized advanced manufacturing companies have more immediate needs as they become operational, which is where the Georgia Center for Innovation comes in. A division of the Department of Commerce, COI works with companies of all sizes to find and deliver the resources they need, including workforce programs, research collaboration, incentives, trade, contract manufacturing and others. In the following interview, John Morehouse, Director of the Georgia Center of Innovation for Manufacturing, explains how his office helps companies succeed.
What are the most common services COI provides to Georgia manufacturing companies?
John Morehouse: Regardless of the size of the Georgia manufacturer, which could be an entrepreneur with a new product idea all the way up to an automotive manufacturer with thousands of employees, the Manufacturing team at the Georgia Center of Innovation always begins the conversation with the same question: “What challenges are you trying to overcome to help your company grow?” Companies’ answers to these questions vary widely. It’s our job to use our manufacturing engineering backgrounds, combined with our knowledge of Georgia’s incredible resources in industry, academia, and government, to identify the right resources and facilitate collaborations to help the company find solutions to their problems. By helping Georgia manufacturers solve problems and grow, we help develop Georgia’s manufacturing industry and strengthen our manufacturing ecosystem.
What do advanced manufacturers typically need assistance with?
JM: Entrepreneurs are commonly looking for assistance with prototyping, design, low-volume manufacturing, business formation, or perhaps they need help with determining if there is a market for their product idea. Once we determine their specific needs, we help provide answers or facilitate collaborations with resources in the state such as the Advanced Technology Development Center (ATDC) at Georgia Tech, the University of Georgia’s Small Business Development Center (SBDC), the Global Center for Medical Innovation (GCMI), Capstone Design programs at Georgia’s universities such as Georgia Tech and Georgia Southern University, product development firms, fabrication shops and contract manufacturers.
Often, we find that small and medium-sized manufacturers commonly need assistance with implementing lean manufacturing principles or improving plant layout, quality systems, and company strategy. When these manufacturers are looking to develop new markets overseas, we facilitate collaborations with our colleagues in the International Trade division at the Georgia Department of Economic Development (GDEcD). Small and medium-sized manufacturers also seek help with innovative, industry-leading ways to hire and retain their workforce, in which case we share success stories from other Georgia manufacturers and make connections to the Georgia Manufacturing Extension Partnership (GaMEP) for help with Strategic Leadership Development.
Large manufacturers typically possess significant business development, engineering, and scientific support internally. As a result, their needs often fall into the category of advanced R&D. Perhaps they need very specific high-level expertise in an area such as materials science, advanced testing facilities, or a topic that is a new frontier for the company such as determining and implementing the most suitable Industry 4.0 technologies such as AI, Additive Manufacturing, Augmented Reality (AR) or Virtual Reality (VR). In these cases we might facilitate collaborations with researchers at Georgia Tech in the Advanced Manufacturing Pilot Facility (AMPF), Institute for Materials (IMat), Institute for Electronics and Nanotechnology (IEN), or the University of Georgia College of Engineering.
Through our interactions with individual manufacturers and the manufacturing ecosystem, we are also able to identify and support strategic programs that are designed to grow Georgia’s manufacturing industry. One recent example was how the Center of Innovation joined several entities across the state, including Georgia Tech’s Enterprise Innovation Institute, the Russell Innovation Center for Entrepreneurs, Spelman College, the Technical College System of Georgia, and several others to support Georgia Tech’s effort to secure a phase I grant from the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Economic Development Administration (EDA) Build Back Better Regional Challenge (BBRC) to establish an AI Manufacturing Corridor in Georgia. The goal of the program is to support Georgia manufacturers in implementing AI technologies to improve their competitiveness.
How is the Center of Innovation helping Georgia compete for EV investment projects?
JM: Our Global Commerce team at GDEcD leads all investment projects, whether it’s a company establishing a new location in Georgia or expanding an existing operation. All six teams in the Center of Innovation — Aerospace, Agricultural Technology, Energy Technology, Information Technology, Logistics and Manufacturing — support our Global Commerce team during the recruitment phase if needed. The Manufacturing team is sometimes called upon to gain a deeper understanding of a recruit’s need for raw materials suppliers and then identify potential suppliers in Georgia.
In addition, we act as a value-added resource provided by the state at no cost to the company, working with any company for as long as that company has a facility in Georgia. Our team has clients that we have served on multiple, varied requests over several years, and the effective relationships we establish help us continue to serve them through their lifecycle. We always tell Georgia manufacturers: “Even if you’re not sure if we can help, please give us a call. We’re like a concierge consultant. It’s our job to connect you with resources in the state that can help you overcome your challenges and help you grow, so the sooner we know you, the more effective we can be.”
What are some examples of how COI helped an advanced manufacturing company overcome a business challenge and be more productive?
JM: The COI Manufacturing team facilitated a partnership between the startup Carbice and the Georgia Tech Manufacturing Institute (GTMI) to develop best manufacturing practices for its nanotechnology-based thermal tape products to ensure scalable production at high quality. Through the development of best manufacturing practices, testing, and EPA permission, Carbice established the foundation that it needed to transition from research-and-development-level production to commercial-scale production. The ability to scale manufacturing safely was a key factor in Carbice receiving $15 million in Series B funding in early 2021.
The COI Manufacturing team facilitated a partnership between Rayonier Advanced Materials (RYAM) in Jesup, Georgia, and the University of Georgia’s Poultry Science Department to develop a prebiotic for poultry from the byproducts of RYAM’s process to manufacture cellulose. After RYAM developed and implemented a new method to harvest the prebiotic from its manufacturing byproducts, UGA’s Poultry Science team’s two feeding studies showed improved gut health and increased levels of beneficial bacteria in poultry fed with RYAM’s prebiotics. RYAM continues its efforts to bring the product to market, and if successful, the amount of antibiotics used in poultry production will be reduced. The innovative development will benefit three of Georgia’s largest industries: poultry, forestry and manufacturing.
Mark Arend has been editor in chief of Site Selection magazine since 2001. 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.