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From Site Selection magazine, March 2024

Supercharging Growth Through Worker Training

Georgia Quick Start underpins the Kia success story.

Kia Georgia is building the new Kia EV9.
Photo courtesy of Kia Georgia

by Gary Daughters

ntroduced to the nation in a slickly produced ad that aired in the fourth quarter of Super Bowl LVIII, Kia’s new EV9 SUV will be the first battery electric vehicle manufactured in Georgia. Billed as a family-friendly EV option, EV9 features three rows of seating and a host dazzling features. It’s being produced, says Kia Georgia President & CEO Stuart Countess, with the American driver in mind. Some 40% of Kia vehicles sold in the U.S. are built by Kia Georgia.

“It made sense to build the EV9 here,” Countess told Site Selection recently, “because the American likes larger vehicles. If you look at the popularity of the Telluride” — the gasoline-powered SUV that Kia also builds in Georgia — “we’ve increased production several times but have still struggled to meet the market demand. EV9 is a similar vehicle with different technology, and we expect similar results.”

Kia is investing more than $200 million and creating nearly 200 jobs to roll out the EV9 this spring from its facility in West Point, a location the South Korean automaker selected in 2006. Today the plant employs more than 3,000 Georgians, covers 2,200 acres and has come to represent a total capital investment of more than $1.9 billion. Kia workers are being trained for the EV9 at the on-site Kia Georgia Training Center, operated jointly by Kia and Georgia Quick Start. A division of the Technical College System of Georgia, Quick Start is widely considered to be the nation’s premier workforce development program. Quick Start training is a key component of state incentives packages, especially those offered to foreign manufacturers.

Rick Douglas, director of people and culture for Kia Georgia, says Quick Start weighed heavily in Kia’s decision to come to Georgia and has factored mightily in the West Point facility’s success. He calls Georgia’s workforce development efforts “a benchmark for the nation.”

“Before the ink was dry on Kia’s announcement to build our facility in Georgia, the Technical College System of Georgia had dispatched its Quick Start program to create a world-class training program to prepare the community for the 3,000 automotive assembly jobs headed its way. Quick Start,” says Douglas, “traveled the globe to make the Kia Georgia Training Center (KGTC) the ‘gold standard’ in the auto industry.”

Rodger Brown, Quick Start’s executive director for 21 years, recently attended the groundbreaking for another on-site training center, this one to serve Hyundai’s massive “Metaplant” that’s quickly rising near Savannah. Brown likens his training force to the U.S. Navy’s SEAL Team 6, both highly motivated and adaptable. Quick Start is teaching Georgians to make not just EVs but a broad range of complex products including airplanes, robotics, construction equipment, biotech products, even bread.

“We come in,” Brown tells Site Selection, “and it’s overwhelming shock and awe. The state tells us to hit Hyundai, so we hit Hyundai. They tell us to hit King’s Hawaiian, so now we’re gonna hit Hall County and make tasty bread. We’ve developed a model that works. Turn us loose and there we go.”

Brown says a key differentiator — relative to other states’ customized training programs — is that Quick Start isn’t a hit-and-run operation. Some states, he explains, “will give you a grant and come up with a little training course for your company. When the grant is spent, they dust off their hands and go away. Quick Start,” he says, “commits that as long as you are creating new jobs, we will continue to be your training partner. There’s no real limit.” 

Veteran Labor Pool Provided Wind Beneath Gulfstream’s Wings

Gulfstream Aerospace, which recently completed a $150 million expansion of its plant in Savannah, is Georgia’s single-largest manufacturer by employment. Via email, Gulfstream president Mark Burns tells Site Selection that more than 25% of the corporate jet maker’s workforce are veterans of the U.S. military. Since 2022 alone, he says, Gulfstream has hired more than 1,300 vets.

“In the Savannah area, we have strong relationships with Fort Stewart and Hunter Army Airfield,” Burns writes. “We’ve also had success recruiting from Moody and Robins Air Force bases and even Kings Bay Naval Submarine Base.”

Gary Daughters
Senior Editor

Gary Daughters

Gary Daughters is a Peabody Award winning journalist who began with Site Selection in 2016. Gary has worked as a writer and producer for CNN covering US politics and international affairs. His work has included lengthy stints in Washington, DC and western Europe. Gary is a 1981 graduate of the University of Georgia, where he majored in Journalism and Mass Communications. He lives in Atlanta with his teenage daughter, and in his spare time plays guitar, teaches golf and mentors young people.


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