Kia supplier DongNam Tech no longer coming to Columbus

Columbus has lost Kia supplier DongNam Tech and the estimated 350 jobs it was supposed to bring to the city, economic development officials said Wednesday.

South Korea-based DongNam Tech had committed last June to opening a car mat and cargo liner manufacturing plant in Columbus. It was to have been in a 100,000-square-foot speculative building in Muscogee Technology Park, a 1,400-acre industrial area off U.S. 80 on the city’s east side.

But the deal fell through when another South Korea-based company, NVH Korea Inc., purchased DongNam Tech. The acquisition took place toward the end of last year, with Columbus officials being notified via e-mail that the local project was off.

“We’re hoping that we can help them develop a project here, but the project that we brought here that was DongNam Tech — DNT Georgia — is no longer,” said Becca Hardin, executive vice president with The Valley Partnership, a recruitment agency, and the Greater Columbus Chamber of Commerce.

“We’re in talks with them, but they’ve made no commitment to follow through on the project,” said Hardin, who traveled to South Korea last year to nail down a commitment from the auto supplier.

The capital investment for the DongNam Tech project was to be $29 million, with the venture creating up to 350 jobs over five years as business picked up speed. Pay for the jobs was expected to be in the $12- to $15-per-hour range.

The company specialized in making carpeted mats and liners for a variety of vehicles. It was expected to supply the massive Kia auto assembly plant under construction in nearby West Point, Ga., and other automakers. The Kia factory is scheduled to open by the end of this year.

Projects on hold

NVH Korea is a company launched in 1984 to produce automotive interior parts and materials. Its initials stand for “noise, vibration and harshness” — a play on words off the material and products it makes to keep vehicles quiet when in motion.

Neither company could be reached for comment Wednesday.

Hardin said the slumping global economy appears to have been a key factor in DongNam Tech’s decision to sell to a willing buyer in NVH Korea.

“Not just these companies, but a lot of projects that we were working on just got put on hold in the fourth quarter of ’08,” she said.

The speculative building, meanwhile, has been put back on the market. DongNam Tech already had come up with designs for the Columbus plant, she said, but had not started construction.

Hardin said local recruiters are still courting any remaining Kia suppliers. Recruiters also have turned their attention to possibly landing defense contractors that will accompany the U.S. Army Armor School when it is relocated from Fort Knox, Ky., to Fort Benning.

No ripple effect

Still, the loss of 350 jobs during a deep recession is painful, said Columbus real estate executive Jack Key. He groaned when told Wednesday the DongNam Tech project was dead.

“That’s disappointing,” said Key, a partner with Coldwell Banker Kennon Parker Duncan & Key. “It’s wonderful for the region when somebody goes into Troup or Meriwether (counties) or anywhere around here associated with Kia. But it hurts when the one in your backyard gets pulled.”

Key said he has no idea how many home sales the plant might have generated locally. It depends on the types of jobs and wages. But there definitely would have been a ripple effect, he said.

“From a real estate perspective, there would absolutely be some homebuyers in there, and a whole lot of folks renting apartments and houses,” he said.