You probably have never heard of the Hyundai Expressway. That is because I coined the name. Hyundai Motor America is located in Montgomery, Alabama, while Kia Motors America is located in West Point, Georgia. The distance between these two plants is approximately 100 miles (around 160 kilometers) along Interstate 85. If you look around carefully while you are driving along this interstate highway, you will notice almost 10 plants with names that I am sure are Korean, such as Ajin and Mando.
Combined, the total number of employees hired directly by Hyundai in Alabama, Kia in Georgia, and their supplier firms between the two is about 6,000. Including the multiplier effect, the total number of employees of the Hyundai complex along I-85 easily exceeds 10,000. This is the reason why I call the portion of I-85 between Montgomery, Alabama and West Point, Georgia, the Hyundai Expressway.
Hyundai is not the only Korean company making news in Alabama. The June 5, 2012 issue of the Mobile’s daily newspaper, Press-Register, had a lead article in the business section titled, “Koreans deny interest in TK plant.” TK refers to the ThyssenKrupp Group of Germany. I was particularly interested in the article because POSCO is one of my favorite companies in Korea and I worked as an economic consultant to TK in Mobile. ThyssenKrupp is one of the world's largest technology groups with more than 190,000 employees in about 700 companies. On May 11, 2007, TK selected the 3,700-acre site in Mobile as the location of its new plant. It was completed in 2011. The TK mill in Mobile produces high-grade carbon steel and stainless steel for sale largely to the North American car industry. The total cost of building the Mobile plant was $5 billion.
I know that you are getting a little impatient and want to know what was in the Press-Register article. According to the article, “German weekly WirtschaftsWoche reported that South Korea’s POSCO has shown interest in ThyssenKrupp’s mill in Alabama.” The article also states that in response, “A South Korean steelmaker is denying interest in ThyssenKrupp’s carbon steel plant in Calvert (which is in Mobile) after a German newspaper named the firm as a potential suitor.” The plant has its own dock along the Alabama River that flows directly to the Port of Mobile that has regular shipping services to Incheon, Gunsan, and Masan in Korea and to potentially the rest of the world. The plant is only about 150 miles from Hyundai Motor America in Montgomery. The latest news is that TK hired Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley to review options for their plants in Mobile and also in Brazil.
Incidentally on July 2, Airbus, which is a subsidiary of the European Aeronautics Defense and Space Company (EADS) announced that they would manufacture the popular A320 airplanes in Mobile (Alabama), making Mobile only the second such plant outside France. The other plant is in Tianjin (China).
Let me go back to the Hyundai Expressway and make one suggestion to Hyundai, Korea Tourism Organization, or anyone who might be interested in this turn of events. I think we need a Hyundai Welcome Center on the Hyundai Expressway near the border of Alabama and Georgia. That spot is right in the middle between Montgomery, Alabama and Atlanta, Georgia with heavy traffic. The Hyundai Welcome Center should preferably be decorated in a classic Korean style, serve Korean food as well as American food, display many brochures for potential visitors to Korea, and hand out a $500 coupon for Hyundai and Kia cars subject to the condition that only one coupon can be applied for each car that coupon-holders may buy. If anyone with money in Korea is interested in the project but does not know how to go about it, all he or she has to do is to ask about the EB-5 visa program. Will the venture be successful? I have no doubt that it will.