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Hyundai feted in Selma

The flashbulbs popped and the TV cameras rolled as Selma's business community turned out in droves Thursday evening to welcome the man many already are hoping can help to turn this city's battered economy around.

B.M. Ahn, president of Hyundai U.S.A., got his first close-up look at Selma at a reception in his honor held at Our House on Dallas Avenue. He left with a key to the city, an appreciated Otey Crisman putter, a generous outpouring of Southern hospitality, and a reminder that "we're only 40 minutes away" from the giant automaker's planned $1 billion assembly plant to be located in nearby Hope Hull.

Hyundai Motor Co. announced its long-awaited decision to locate the plant in Alabama earlier this week. Ahn and two other Hyundai officials were in Alabama to begin preliminary preparations for construction of the facility.

In Selma, the cold cuts were piled high and the self-serve bar was open as Ahn, closely shepherded by Mayor James Perkins Jr., greeted the city's business leaders.

Outside, Selma police officers could be seen discreetly patrolling the grounds.

The slight, bespectacled Ahn smiled stoically amid an endless round of handshaking and introductions, slipping the many proffered business cards unobtrusively into his coat pocket.

If the quiet, unassuming president of one of the world's largest manufacturing companies was overwhelmed by all the commotion, he never let on.

A barely loosened tie was the only sign that the conservatively dressed Ahn might be tiring from the non-stop round of visits that began Tuesday when he left his native South Korea and flew into Montgomery Wednesday afternoon.

Nor was his visit to Selma Ahn's last stop of the day. Even as the reception line wound its way around, a helicopter sat waiting at nearby Craig Field to transport him back to Montgomery and one final reception before day's end. He was scheduled to fly to California Thursday evening.

Alabama Development Office Director Todd Strange noted that, according to a recent consumer survey, Hyundai cars now rank No. 4 in quality in the United States

ahead of General Motors. Hyundai's U.S. sales have quadrupled in recent years.

"This is a wonderful opportunity for Selma, this is a wonderful opportunity for Central Alabama," Strange told those gathered here. "We will be working with your mayor to see if we can make this happen for your city."

Perkins called the efforts to lure the automaker here a truly "regional effort."

"If Montgomery was improved by Hyundai coming there, then almost certainly Selma would benefit from that," he said.

The mayor presented Ahn with a key to the city along with a portrait of the Edmund Pettus Bridge, saying it "stands as a monument to heroism and courage in our community and as a bridge to our future."

Looking squarely at Ahn, Perkins added that it could truly become a bridge to the future if it served to transport parts for the new manufacturing plant.

Dallas County Probate Judge Johnny Jones reminded Ahn that "we're only 40 minutes away – 35 if you're not afraid of the state troopers."