Hyundai officially opens doors

Published 12:00 am Sunday, May 29, 2005

Three years of long wait for Hyundai and Central Alabama finally culminated on Friday in a celebratory grand opening at the company's new $1.1 billion manufacturing plant in Hope Hull.

Dignitaries on hand for the special event included Alabama Gov. Bob Riley, former President George H.W. Bush and Korea's ambassador to the United States, Seok Hyun Hong.

"I promise you this Mr. Chairman, you came to the right place," Riley told Mong Koo Chung, chairman and CEO of Hyundai Kia Automotive Group, and a host of Korean nationals in attendance. "This is the most optimistic time ever for both the State of Alabama and Hyundai."

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Hyundai Motor Manufacturing Alabama will produce the company's Sonata model. In 2006, the plant will start producing the Santa Fe special utility vehicle. The announcement and arrival of the automobile manufacturer gave a much-needed boost to the Alabama economy, as an influx of Hyundai suppliers located in and around the central parts of the state. Riley noted that having Hyundai in Alabama in 2005 would jump the state from sixth to third nationally in the production of automobiles.

Friday's celebration took place in an immense building – constructed especially for the occasion by Hyundai – located directly behind the 2 million square-foot assembly plant. Thousands of attendees, as well as an estimated 2,000 plant workers, filled the building to capacity to witness the birth of Hyundai's North American operations. A high-energy performance by Montgomery Vibe, a dance troop, jump-started the ceremony. Twin movie screens on either side of the stage ensured people far in the back weren't left out.

Bush, a last minute special guest and speaker, capped off his speech to resounding applause by revealing a layer of red, white and blue lining in his jacket.

"I believe there's a message here for both Hyundai and the citizens of Montgomery," Bush said. "I believe this a powerful message of opportunity."

Guests attending also included a group of Korean War veterans and Bush called attention to their being there, as did Ambassador Hong.

"Almost 50,000 Americans sacrificed their lives for Korean liberty," said Hong of the war. "Korea and the United States have stood side by side ever since."

Chairman Chong expressed his sentiments.

"We're proud to have chosen Montgomery as our new home," he said. Chong also thanked Hyundai's long list of over 60 suppliers for their commitment to quality.

Montgomery Mayor Bobby Bright said it seemed not long ago that he and Hyundai officials had stood side by side on the future site of the plant, ceremonial shovels in hand.

"This is a day that forever will be remembered by the State of Alabama," he said.

Hyundai Motor America President Bob Cosmai said Hyundai sales have grown 364 percent in the last several years. The Sonata – and having it produced in the United States – is 'critically' important to Hyundai, he said.

HMMA Production Director Bob Kalson said he expects the plant to produce 80,000 automobiles between May and the end of the year. Production is expected to be at least 300,000 automobiles in 2006.

Kalson brushed aside comments that Hyundai had problems finding personnel to employ at the new plant and that it could limit any expansion desires the company may have.

"Our hiring process is a long and difficult one," he said. "We have a lot of people that apply with Hyundai and we have a good pool (of applicants) to draw from."

Cosmai echoed those sentiments.

"Alabama has been tremendous," he said. "The labor pool is outstanding."

Kalson said company officials have been in discussion with local universities, junior colleges and technical schools about possibly offering Hyundai-based automotive training for those individuals desiring work at the plant.

The ceremony concluded with the state, local and Hyundai officials on the stage, symbolically cutting a red ribbon.