Tuesday, February 26, 2002

Hyundai narrows plant choices

Kentucky still in the running, but Ohio isn't

By Patrick Crowley and Derrick DePledge
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Ohio and Mississippi have been cut from consideration for a $1 billion Hyundai auto plant but Kentucky and Alabama remain in the race, the South Korean automaker announced Monday.

        The news encouraged Kentucky but disappointed state and local officials in Ohio who had offered financial and tax incentives to lure the factory and its promise of 2,000 jobs to either Mount Orab in Brown County, southeast of Cincinnati, or Wapakoneta in Auglaize County, 60 miles north of Dayton.

        Hyundai President Dong-jim Kim informed Ohio Gov. Bob Taft that Ohio was off the list in a telephone call Monday.

        Mr. Taft, who lobbied for the auto plant and gave Mr. Kim and other Hyundai executives tours of the Ohio sites in mid-January, was in Washington, D.C., at a meeting of the nation's governors and unavailable for comment.

        “We're obviously deeply disappointed,” said Joe Andrews, a spokesman for Mr. Taft.

        Mr. Andrews said Mr. Kim, in his telephone call to the governor, was complimentary about the state and the two sites Hyundai considered.

        Hyundai said it has decided to build the plant in either Montgomery, Ala., or Glendale, Ky., about 15 miles south of Elizabethtown. The company has said it expects to announce the plant site within five months.

        Sen. George Voinovich, R-Ohio, said if Ohio can't get the plant, he hopes it lands in Kentucky so parts suppliers and other businesses in his state might benefit.

        “If my vote counts for anything, I vote for Kentucky,” Mr. Voinovich told Mr. Kim. The two spoke by phone Monday.

        Hyundai spokesman Stephen Kitson said that Hyundai executives are in the United States now “talking to various states about their proposals.” He would not reveal any additional information.

        In Mount Orab, residents and officials had been holding out hope for the project.

        “That's a shame,” said Brown County Chamber of Commerce Director Ray Becraft when he heard the news. “We were hoping we were in the running for it.”

        In Mount Orab, where Mayor Bruce Lunsford had served Hyundai executives homemade cookies during their January visit to the city, talk of the project has been a hot topic at the local chili parlor.

        “People were talking about it all the time, how it would bring business and new jobs to the community,” said Amber Neu, an assistant manager at Mount Orab Skyline Chili restaurant.

        “There were a couple of people just talking about it today, how they had wished Toyota would have come here but how they were excited about maybe getting Hyundai,” Ms. Neu said. “When people hear this they are going to be disappointed.”

        Toyota had looked at Brown County for a truck plant that the Japanese automaker eventually opened four years ago in Princeton, Ind., about 230 miles west of Cincinnati.

        Mississippi Gov. Ronnie Musgrove was also informed Monday that his state was no longer being considered for the plant.

        “It was a privilege to be one of the final four for this project,” Mr. Musgrove said in a statement. “We are aggressively pursuing additional opportunities to bring high-quality, good-paying jobs to the people of Mississippi.”

        Kentucky Economic Development Cabinet Secretary Gene Strong said since he had not talked to Hyundai Monday he assumed his state was still in the hunt for the plant.

        “I haven't heard anything from the company, so at this point I can only confirm that we are not out of the running,” Mr. Strong said Monday afternoon.

        Kentucky is pitching a site in Glendale, near Elizabethtown in Hardin County, about 50 miles south of Louisville.

        “We have a dynamite site with good (Interstate 65) highway access and rail access that is well-located to do business in this part of the country,” Mr. Strong said. “We think we've demonstrated how excited we are about this project and how much we would like to have the company in Kentucky.”

        Mr. Strong would not discuss details of the financial and tax incentive package that Kentucky has offered the automaker, but he has previously indicated the package includes the land in Hardin County and money for job training.

        All four states had sent contingents of state and federal officials to South Korea to lobby Hyundai.

        In late January, after a trip to visit the automaker, U.S. Rep. Michael Oxley, R-Ohio, predicted that Ohio and Alabama were finalists for the plant.

        And just three days ago, U.S. Sen. Trent Lott, R-Miss., announced that Hyundai was considering a site near Pelahatchie, Miss.

        “We're going to learn from this experience and go out and win some other projects,” said Bob Rohrlack, executive director of the Mississippi Development Authority.

        Hyundai is Korea's largest automaker, with such models as the Elantra, Sonata and Santa Fe. It sold 346,235 vehicles in the U.S. in 2001, up 42 percent over 2000.

        The Jackson Clarion-Ledger in Mississippi and the Associated Press contributed to this report.



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