Georgia awards Kia Motors plant ‘Large Manufacturer of the Year’

As Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal was busy welcoming a medical manufacturer to Georgia today, he also had words of praise for another one-time prospect that has paid big dividends — Kia Motors Manufacturing Georgia.

The West Point, Ga.-based auto assembly operation was named “Large Manufacturer of the Year” in Georgia at an awards luncheon in Atlanta. Kia Motors America President and Chief Executive Officer Byung Mo Ahn accepted the honor.

“We have developed the ‘Kia Way’ to define the workplace culture and establish a ‘one system/one team’ approach at our facility,” Ahn said in a statement. “The Kia Way is built on trust, mutual respect and open communication among all team members to ensure continuous improvement.”

Since cranking up production at its $1 billion plant off Interstate 85 in Troup County in November 2009, the Korean automaker has experienced rapid growth, with employment surging to 3,000 and parts suppliers around it adding several thousand more workers.

The facility near the Georgia-Alabama border started with the Kia Sorento crossover utility vehicle, then added a sister model, the Hyundai Santa Fe sport utility, before pushing the peddle harder on production last year with the addition of the Kia Optima sedan.

In February, following a $100 million expansion, Kia celebrated yet another milestone — the assembly of its 500,000th vehicle.

Ahn today specifically pointed to the Georgia Quick Start training program as a key ingredient to getting Kia off the ground and running so quickly. That same program now turns its attention to the Stanton Springs community east of Atlanta near Interstate 20, where Baxter International says it will build a bio-pharmaceutical manufacturing plant.

The investment by the company over several years will top $1 billion, it said, with that facility and a chain of plasma centers across the state employing about 1,500 at full production. The plant will make “plasma-based therapies to treat chronic and life-threatening illnesses,” according to a news release. The company posted revenue of nearly $14 billion in 2011. “Baxter’s decision to come to Georgia marks a new era in the growth of our biosciences industry and will have far-reaching impact on our economy,” Deal said in a statement.

The growth of Kia and the entrance of Deerfield, Ill.-based Baxter International into the Georgia market come with another Southeastern city suffering a loss on the corporate recruitment battlefield. Volkswagen on Wednesday said it plans to locate an Audi sport utility assembly plant in Mexico, rather than near Chattanooga, Tenn., where it already operates a facility that makes the VW Passat sedan.