Trip Tollison can pinpoint, to the minute, the time Savannah’s economy changed forever.
April 25, 2022 at 10:32 a.m.
“That’s when we got the signed agreement with Hyundai,” said Tollison, president and CEO of the Savannah Economic Development Authority, or SEDA. “It was a big moment.”
Hyundai Motors announced plans Friday to build a $5.5 billion manufacturing facility near Savannah. The site will employ 8,100 workers between an electric vehicle assembly plant and an adjacent EV battery factory, making it the largest single economic development project in Georgia history.
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Hyundai officials, Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp and Savannah Harbor-Interstate 16 Corridor Joint Development Authority leaders publicly announced the deal at the location of the planned manufacturing campus, off Interstate 16 near Ellabell, an unincorporated community in northern Bryan County. The Savannah Harbor-Interstate 16 Corridor Joint Development Authority, or Savannah JDA, includes SEDA as well the economic development authorities of Bryan, Effingham and Bulloch counties
Local elected officials, business leaders, media members and curious neighbors attended the announcement press conference, held under a tent on the edge of the still undeveloped Bryan County megasite in sweltering 90-degree heat.
The temperature matched the excitement, including that of Gov. Kemp. He began wooing Hyundai’s business soon after winning office in 2018 with a visit to Seoul.
“They’re a known commodity and we have such a great relationship with them,” said Kemp, referencing Hyundai Motors’ Kia plant in West Point, Georgia, which opened in 2009. “They know our state. They know we can deliver to get the speed to the market they need. This is an incredible success story.”
Site preparation will begin in July, with a ceremonial groundbreaking to be held at a yet-to-be-determined date. Plans call for 16 million to 17 million square feet under roof between the auto and battery plants. Once the assembly facility comes online on or before January 2025, Hyundai expects to manufacture 300,000 vehicles a year.
Hyundai has not disclosed which models will be manufactured, only that the vehicles will bear the Hyundai brand, not that of its sister company, Kia, as was previously reported.
“This manufacturing facility represents a critical next step in the evolution of Hyundai Motor Group,” said Jaehoon “Jay” Chang, Hyundai’s president and CEO. “We chose the United States to build our first dedicated EV plant outside of Korea because America embraces change and drives innovations.”
Hyundai officials are eager to start construction, as evidenced by the timeline. The company first showed interest in the site on Jan. 6 and committed to the deal less than four months later. Negotiations for large-scale projects involving original equipment manufacturers such as Hyundai typically lasts two to three years, Tollison said.
“The electric vehicle market right now is a hot, hot race,” Tollison said. “Speed to market is extremely important and this company obviously recognized that and pursued this project with a vengeance.”
According to economic development officials, jobs at the Hyundai plant are expected to pay wages “very competitive with others in the advanced manufacturing market.” The average annual salary in the industry locally is $58,105, not including benefits. That figure does not include wages paid by Gulfstream, which employs thousands of engineers, designers, technicians and mechanics as well as assembly workers.
Officials anticipate the Hyundai project will generate hundreds, if not thousands, of indirect jobs related to Hyundai suppliers. The number of suppliers is not yet known, although estimates peg supplier investment at more than $1 billion.
Recruiting and job training are expected to begin in the coming months. Savannah is currently experiencing a labor shortage, with the unemployment rate at 3.2%. Economic development officials will leverage the Georgia Advanced Manufacturing Training Center, part of the state’s Quick Start program, to develop the workforce.
They expect the Hyundai jobs will generate intense interest from local residents and also attract workers from around the state and the region.
“We’re talking 8,100 people and we’re talking quickly,” Tollison said. “We’re going to see a little bit of everything. You’ll see somebody locally who wants a better wage or is tired of what they are going. You’re going to see somebody from Columbus, Georgia, who wants to be closer to the ocean. You’re going to see folks from metro Atlanta wanting a change.”
Hyundai will receive a significant incentives package as part of the deal, although details will not be released until after the economic development agreement is signed. Another recent manufacturing plant deal signed in Georgia, for EV automaker Rivian, included $1.5 billion in local and state tax abatements and other incentives.
The Hyundai announcement caps a 20-year effort to attract an automaker to Savannah. Local economic development officials previously came close to landing deals with DaimlerChrysler and Volvo for factories only to lose that business to other locations. Other manufacturers have shown interest over the years as well, including two in addition to Hyundai over the last year.
Timeline:Chrysler to Hyundai, Savannah has courted automaker assembly plants for 20 years
But according to the Development Authority of Bryan County’s Anna Chafin, Hyundai is “the project we’ve been looking for” and “checks all the boxes” in terms of jobs, investment and brand.
“Our patience and persistence has paid off,” she said. “What we’re ending up with is bigger and better than we could have ever imagined.”