Thursday, March 14, 2002

No Hyundai decision yet, S. Korean firm tells Kentucky

Denies news report of Ala. choice

The Associated Press

        SEOUL, South Korea — Hyundai Motor Co. officials called Kentucky's economic development team leader directly to warn him of an “erroneous” news report here today that the automaker has chosen Alabama over Kentucky to build its first auto plant in the United States.

        After months of surveys, Hyundai narrowed its site possibilities to locations in Montgomery, Ala., and Glendale, Ky., in February.

        “Our evaluation has not been finished yet. We still need a few more months before making the final decision,” said Park Sang-woo, a Hyundai spokesman, publicly denying the report in South Korea's English-language Korea Herald.

        Hyundai representatives contacted Kentucky Economic Development Cabinet Secretary Gene Strong early Wednesday afternoon to tell him the Korean newspaper account was inaccurate.

        “Hyundai knew the report was coming, so they called Gene Strong to tell him it was erroneous,” Gov. Paul Patton's press secretary, Rusty Cheuvront, said Wednesday night from his Louisville home. Mr. Strong is handling the negotiations with the automaker for the state.

        “They told us the time-frame for a final decision is still late March, early April. But they did assure (Mr. Strong) that no decision was made and we are still in the running,” Mr. Cheuvront said.

        The Korea Herald, citing a new report and sources it did not identify, reported in today's edition that Hyundai “has finally settled” on Montgomery.

        The Herald quoted sources within Hyundai as saying that the South Korean company “is increasingly leaning toward Alabama as Kentucky's effort to condemn private real estate for an auto plant has been stuck in legal disputes.”

        “Alabama is preferred by Hyundai, as its alliance partner DaimlerChrysler has a manufacturing plant there,” the Herald said. “Moreover, the location will provide easy access to the Latin American market.”

        Another advantage for Alabama is its active move to adopt a bill that will earmark about $77 million in public bond issuance for the purpose of training automotive plant workers, the Herald said.

        The bill, the Herald said, is seen as “indicating that Montgomery has been selected as the site for Hyundai's first U.S. plant.”

        On the other hand, Kentucky's effort to host the Hyundai plant was hampered by a lawsuit filed over a land contract for part of the proposed Hyundai plant, the Herald said.

        Hyundai officials called the Herald report “erroneous and misleading.”

        “The two U.S. sites are on our list with equal weight,” said the Hyundai spokesman, adding that his company was considering issuing an official news release to deny the Herald report.

        The spokesman said Lee Je-rok, chief of Hyundai's V Project Team in charge of the U.S. plant, and his team members were traveling in Alabama and Kentucky as part of the selection process.

        On Wednesday night in Frankfort, Mr. Patton was entertaining members of the Western Kentucky legislative caucus — representatives from the area near the proposed site — at the Governor's Mansion.

        The $1 billion Hyundai factory would employ at least 2,000 workers and probably would make sport utility vehicles.

       Enquirer reporter Patrick Crowley contributed.



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