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Hyundai auto suppliers courted in trade mission

By By Buddy Bynum / editor
May 23, 2002
Local economic development officials are hoping a five-day mission to South Korea will pay off as they continue to court potential suppliers to the billion-dollar Hyundai automotive manufacturing plant under construction 160 miles away near Montgomery, Ala.
Dulaney reported to EMBDC's board of directors today the mission was an essential first step in making contact with companies that will provide parts, accessories and other services to Hyundai. He said members of the delegation had productive one-on-one sessions with two dozen Korean companies.
He said a computerized presentation, produced on short notice by Mississippi State, depicted an aerial view of the Lauderdale County industrial park, highways, topography and other potential local industrial sites.
Dulaney and the local delegation, which included Meridian Mayor John Robert Smith and Craig Hitt, president of the Lauderdale County board of supervisors, met with and lunched with the president of Hyundai, Kim Dong-jin, at corporate headquarters in Seoul.
The local officials are in pursuit of suppliers for Hyundai's new North American auto manufacturing plant, which the company announced on April 2 it would build near Montgomery, Ala.
After intense competition, Mississippi was among the final four sites considered. But Gov. Ronnie Musgrove and the Mississippi Development Authority pushed for a Pelahatchie site well after they were told by Hyundai officials the site had problems. Other sites elsewhere in Mississippi, including at least one in Lauderdale County, got scant consideration and Hyundai eventually settled on a 1,600 acre site in Alabama.
Locally, in a move driven by the EMBDC, the push is on to land suppliers whose products and services will help keep the Hyundai plant humming.
Economic developers said such huge automotive manufacturing operations as the one Hyundai is building in Alabama attract a large number of other supplier companies. Alabama officials said last week that more than 27,000 people now work in its still-developing auto industry, which features an expanding Mercedes sport utility vehicle plant near Tuscaloosa, and Honda and Toyota operations elsewhere.
Lee Youngblood, a spokesman for U.S. Sen. Trent Lott, R-Miss., said Wednesday that Lott recognized opportunities to court potential Hyundai suppliers and made some initial contacts, but the trip was led by EMBDC.
Two of Lott's staff members, Eric Wamble and Angel Campbell, made the Seoul trip, as did Mike Chappel, U.S. Rep. Chip Pickering's deputy chief of staff.
The delegation also included Dr. Wayne Bennett, dean of the school of engineering at Mississippi State, which is working with Japanese car marker Nissan on special engineering education and testing programs related to Nissan's $930 million plant under construction in Madison County. Dulaney said similar engineering arrangements through MSU could be possible with Hyundai suppliers.
Two MDA representatives attended the meetings, along with Melvin Wilson, who represented Mississippi Power.
The local delegation flew to Dulles International Airport near Washington, D.C., in a Mississippi Power plane last Tuesday, and connected for the 12-plus hour commercial flight to Seoul. They returned to the U.S. on Saturday.
Travel costs of about $25,000 for EMBDC president Wade Jones, Smith and Hitt were underwritten by a grant from The Riley Foundation. Dulaney, who paid his own way, thanked the Riley Foundation for its support and said he appreciated its work to improve the quality of life in the Meridian area.
He said Hyundai representatives are likely to return to Mississippi in July, although final arrangements remain to be made.