“Kia-ville,” Georgia Reminds Me of “Gung Ho”

You know, the US auto industry and manufacturing base isn’t doing so hot these days. So when West Point, Georgia, a town about 80 miles Southwest of Atlanta heard that the Korean auto manufacturer Kia had decided to build their new auto plant there, the town was ecstatic. The town of 3,500 was becoming a ghost town with the decline of the textile industry in the area, but will manufacture Kia’s Sorento sport utility vehicle and has already hired 500 workers. By the time the factory opens, Kia hopes to hire 2,000 more – and longer term, Kia suppliers may eventually employ 7,500 additional workers.  That isn’t the only thing that will change ‘Kia-ville’:

“On Main Street, residents are sampling new flavors that have come to West Point since the announcement. Asian restaurants and businesses are popping up. The old Pizza Hut has transformed into a Korean Bar-B-Que, and the southern staple KFC is now a popular Korean eatery called Young’s Garden. Resident Christy Magbee said West Point is starting to feel like a melting pot. “You got the culture coming in. You don’t have to travel to Atlanta anymore. It’s starting to come here,” she said.”

This all reminds me of the 1986 movie Gung Ho staring Michael Keaton and Gedde Watanabe about a fictitious Japanese auto manufacturer — Assan Motors Corporation — taking over a beaten down American auto plant and manufacturing town and introducing cultural mayhem. The movie was prescient in describing the experiences of Japanaese auto manufacturer “transplants” entering the United States. Although the Japanese stereotypes and xenophobic jokes are played up for laughs — it is the mid eighties, after all — the movie is more a sad statement on past US auto management practices, brilliantly documented a few years later in Michael Moore’s 1989 movie, Roger & Me.

Now that Honda, Toyota and Nissan have a large established presence in the United States and Korean auto manufacturer Hyundai establishing a beachhead in Alabama, I hope the best for West Point, Georgia with Kia; but as an American, I hope that Ford will be able to survive and thrive, as the “Big 3” auto manufacturers in the United States are now the “Big 1.”

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About John

I'm a Taiwanese-American and was born & raised in Western Massachusetts, went to college in upstate New York, worked in Connecticut, went to grad school in North Carolina and then moved out to the Bay Area in 1999 and have been living here ever since - love the weather and almost everything about the area (except the high cost of housing...)
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