Charlie Harper: Kia Puts West Point On World Stage
Tuesday, February 12th, 2019
One of the unexpected highlights of Atlanta’s Super Bowl was an ad by Kia announcing its new full size Telluride SUV. While the vehicle was shown, it was the people of West Point Georgia that were featured, and the divide between rural and urban America highlighted.
“We’re not famous” the spot begins, as narrated by a 10-year-old West Point resident who is being raised by his grandparents. “There are no stars in the sidewalk for us. No statues in our honor. We’re just a small Georgia town of complete unknowns. The closest thing to a world stage is 81 miles away in Atlanta tonight…We’re not famous, but we are incredible. And we make incredible things.”
And there, in front of the year’s largest television audience, the divide between “Atlanta” and “other Georgia”, between our cities and rural America, was placed center stage. The ad was a sharp change for the auto maker whose prior commercials are best known for rapping hamsters. Instead, Kia focused the ad as a “rallying cry for the workers who’ve helped catapult the company to where it is today”, according to Saad Chehab, the company’s V.P. of marketing as quoted in industry trade publication Automotive News.
According to Kia Motors website, the West Point plant is now responsible for 14,000 jobs from its plant and suppliers that have located nearby, and has produced 2.6 million vehicles. It’s a stark change when the area’s future was uncertain after area textile mills closed. The economic impact of the factory extends well beyond Troup County.
This point was emphasized by the Georgia Ports Authority, who announced the morning after the Super Bowl that Kia would begin exporting the new Telluride from the Port of Brunswick later this month. The product of West Point Georgia will be exported well beyond America’s shores.
In addition, Kia will be using the Port of Savannah to import components used in the assembly of the Telluride and other vehicles that aren’t produced locally. The Ports note that this is similar to parts that come in for Volkswagen Chattanooga plant, where Brunswick exports finished Atlas SUV and Passat sedan models to world markets. The Appalachian Regional Port in Murray County, a multi-modal link to the sea ports via high speed rail, serves the VW plant and brings North Georgia into the logistics picture.
When the information from the Ports Authority is factored in, it puts the “divide” in a different light entirely. In an age of economic specialization, we can’t afford to be divided. Worldwide supply chains and distribution networks rely on predictability and efficient operations. Georgia continues to offer world class logistics with our airports and ports, while continuing to improve the highways and rail systems that link them together with manufacturers and distributors.
The issue of tariffs and trade negotiations significantly complicate the issue and won’t be solved in the space of one column. It is simply noted that the situation is far more complex than “tariffs are bad” and “trade is good”. The U.S. has recently updated its trade agreement with South Korea, so the core supply chain for Kia’s West Point plant is reasonable secure.
Our shared reality, rural, suburban, and urban alike, is that our economic well-being is dependent on trade. We rely on relatively cheap goods to be imported to maintain our standard of living. We rely on a world market to purchase the goods and services we produce to earn our incomes.
It’s a delicate balancing act to set policies that allow us to do both. In the end, the result should be one like West Point Georgia has been able to experience. We must be able to convert our labor into incredible things that others here and abroad can and will purchase.