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From Site Selection magazine, March 2024

Southeast Georgia’s Next Generation Is Ready for Growth

Effingham College & Career Academy (ECCA) worked with Hyundai Motor America and Horizon Educational to provide mini hydrogen fuel cell car kits so middle-school students could learn how hydrogen and EV technology works. “We are currently pursuing a grant through the Georgia Department of Education that will allow us to take this effort to the next level and incorporate elements of EV technology into our engineering pathway,” said ECCA CEO Todd Wall.
Kaydence Stearns
Kaydence Stearns

 look into the eyes of the next generation in Effingham County, Georgia, is a look into the confident face of tomorrow, in a region already taking bold steps toward that future.

Look no further than 18-year-old Kaydence Stearns, a proud South Effingham High School Mustang who’s also a proud graduate of the Workforce PhD program initiated by Effingham College and Career Academy (ECCA) in partnership with the Effingham County Industrial Development Authority and a group of area employers in 2021 and now about to launch its fourth round. Through that program Stearns has learned communications, financial literacy and other soft skills employers say are so often lacking. Simultaneously she’s taken on progressive levels of logistics and operations responsibility at aviation components manufacturer AeroDynamic Aviation, Inc., one of the Workforce PhD program’s initial partners.

When Stearns was placed into a two-year logistics pathway class as a junior, “I had no idea what logistics was,” she says. She saw it as an easy filler class. Today she’s helping fill orders on the manufacturing floor of the fast-growing company, which expanded into a larger facility a few years ago and has grown to 68 employees today. “I realized I’m kind of good at this and enjoy doing this,” Stearns says. “That’s how I started learning about the career I’m in now.”

Stearns started out in shipping, says AeroDynamic Aviation CEO Chris Burnsed, “but she’s a very fast learner, so she has moved into the expediter position, with future plans to move into our planning department and help plan the work orders.” More talent will be coming on board soon as the company builds a new paint shop at its new site just north of Springfield.

Burnsed says Workforce PhD and other programs at ECCA are “a huge help in the area because it lets the kids at these schools know there’s local employment for them.” His firm has found more than a few good young employees this way. Even if it’s not a good match, Burnsed says, he can refer young talent to other growing area employers such as Georgia Pacific, automotive companies or logistics players connected to the booming activity at the Georgia Ports Authority’s Port of Savannah. “We love being a part of these programs. We’re trying to build a good county here, so you don’t have to drive two or three hours for a good job.”



Workforce PhD students learn what it takes to pursue a career at Georgia Transformer Corporation’s production site in Rincon, Georgia.


There are plenty of residents ready to stay closer to home. More than 18,000 residents leave the county for work every day, says ECIDA Vice President Jessica Hood, which creates a retention opportunity for employers in Effingham, especially as the region builds from a solid base of logistics prowess to the higher salaries and skills of high-tech manufacturing.

As for the next generation, word of mouth helps.

“I have spoken to a few of my friends who were in my class,” Stearns says. “I also tried to encourage more on social media to not let the school systems tell you college is the only option. Because the reality is it’s not.”

Ready to Partner

You don’t have to tell that to Effingham County School District. South Effingham High School (SEHS) recently offered space to Hyundai Motor Group Metaplant America (HMGMA) to train future automotive industry professionals to work in one of the thousands of positions being created by that company’s multi-billion-dollar EV Metaplant rising next to I-16 in nearby Bryan County. 

“We are incredibly thankful for the generosity of the Effingham County School District and SEHS to provide a space where we can conduct critical welding training in preparation for the opening of our plant,” said HMGMA Head of Learning & Development Dr. Brent Stubbs. The relationship allows Hyundai leaders to engage with students interested in high-tech manufacturing. “We are pleased to collaborate with Hyundai, aiming for a lasting partnership that mutually benefits Hyundai, our students and our community,” said ECSD Superintendent Dr. Yancy Ford.

HMGMA-related and port-driven projects continue to provide more career opportunities. Broe Group’s Savannah Gateway Industrial Hub (SGIH) has added global automotive parts supplier Kyungshin America Corporation (KAC) to its 2,600-acre multimodal logistics park in the county. In February 2023, Sewon America, a subsidiary of Sewon Precision Industry Co., announced a $300 million, 740-job investment at Grande View Industrial Park in Rincon, the largest economic development project in the city’s history.

“We chose Effingham County because of its existing infrastructure and proximity to the new Hyundai Metaplant,” said Sewon America President and CEO Lucas Jeung Gi Lee. “But one of the biggest selling points was also the ability to hire high quality workers within the county.”


I like working with the school system because we want good young talent.” 

—Chris Burnsed, Co-Founder and CEO, AeroDynamic Aviation Inc.


Sewon America has signed an agreement with Savannah Technical College. The first cohort of students completed training at Savannah Tech in January. Thirty high achievers will be primed to be leaders at the new Rincon facility by pursuing further training at Sewon’s facility in LaGrange, Georgia. Sewon also has donated $40,000 to various entities to show support for the county’s infrastructure and educational outcomes. In addition, Savannah Tech has partnered with the Effingham K-12 system through its dual enrollment program.

“Effingham County Schools have been a great partner,” says Savannah Technical College Vice President of Economic Development Tal Loos. “We continue to work with them and other school districts in our four-county service area to expand these programs and to make sure we are offering what is needed for the Effingham area. For example, we are working with them now to start offering our Electrical Vehicle Professional TCC. This was the certificate that was developed to help support new industry coming to the area like Hyundai.”

That sort of mutual support has become Effingham County’s common ground for promising corporate investment and prosperous career pathways.

This Investment Profile has been prepared under the auspices of Effingham County Industrial Development Authority. For more information, visit Contact Vice President Jessica Hood, CEcD at or directly by phone at (912) 392-3050.

Adam Bruns
Editor in Chief of Site Selection magazine

Adam Bruns

Adam Bruns is editor in chief and head of publications for Site Selection, and before that has served as managing editor beginning in February 2002. In the course of reporting hundreds of stories for Site Selection, Adam has visited companies and communities around the globe. A St. Louis native who grew up in the Kansas City suburbs, Adam is a 1986 alumnus of Knox College, and resided in Chicago; Midcoast Maine; Savannah, Georgia; and Lexington, Kentucky, before settling in the Greater Atlanta community of Peachtree Corners, where he lives with his wife and daughter.


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