February 11, 2019 10:00 AM
This week’s Courier Herald column:
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
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.