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State courts billion-dollar Hyundai plant

By Staff
From staff and wire reports
Jan. 24, 2002
Mississippi is in the running for a billion-dollar automotive manufacturing plant that South Korea's largest car-marker plans to build in the U.S., it was reported Wednesday.
But the competition is keen. Alabama, Georgia, Kentucky and Ohio are also reported to be heavily courting Hyundai and economic development officials familiar with the project say financial incentives may be the determining factor in which state gets the 2,000 new jobs.
Mississippi officials believe the Hyundai project could spark a new round of interest in automotive manufacturing, especially in the wake of the $930 million Nissan plant under construction in Madison County. About $500 million in state incentives helped attract Nissan.
Gov. Ronnie Musgrove would not comment directly on reports that Mississippi's top economic development officials gave site tours to a group of unnamed prospects at the same time Hyundai Motor Co.'s president visited the United States.
A spokesman for the South Korean automaker, speaking to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity, said company president Kim Dong-jin was in the U.S. and planned to attend a motor show and visit the Hyundai sales network.
The spokesman said the Hyundai president also was touring places'' to discuss a new auto plant. He did not deny the executive had visited Mississippi.
Hyundai, South Korea's largest automaker, plans to build a $1 billion car assembly plant in this country that would employ 2,000.
If Hyundai chooses Mississippi, it would join Nissan North America, whose plant is scheduled to open next year.
Asked about this week's site tours, Mississippi Development Authority spokeswoman Sherry Vance gave the agency's standard reply that she couldn't comment on economic development prospects.
State flight records obtained by The AP under a public records request show that a top MDA executive flew to Dallas on Monday morning to pick up six people for a site visit involving a Project Beach.''
The MDA official and his guests, identified only as prospects, arrived back in Jackson at noon the same day. State law does not require identification by name of such economic development prospects and they are usually not listed by name on flight manifests.
On Tuesday, state officials, including the man overseeing the Nissan project, used two planes for business involving Project Beach, the records show.
In one plane, MDA director Bob Rohrlack, deputy director Jay Moon, Nissan project director Buzz Canup and Jackson engineer Tracy Huffman flew with four unnamed prospects.
In the other plane, Bill Adams, an MDA project manager, flew with three other prospects.
Both planes left Jackson at 3:20 p.m. on Tuesday and landed 50 minutes later in Montgomery, Ala. Officials in Alabama also have made an aggressive pitch for the Hyundai plant.
The two planes arrived back in Jackson about 5:30 p.m. with the MDA representatives but not the prospects.
The total cost of the three flights was $3,672, the records show.
Canup, who works as a consultant for the state, is in charge of implementing state-related construction projects in coordination with Nissan. He owns a site location company called Canup &Associates.
Hyundai executives also were scheduled to visit sites in Ohio, a spokesman for Gov. Bob Taft said Wednesday. Taft and other Ohio leaders have traveled to South Korea to recruit Hyundai.
Last week, U.S. Rep. Mike Oxley, R-Ohio, said Hyundai officials would look at a site in Wapakoneta in northwest Ohio. The Hyundai group also was expected to visit a site in southern Ohio.
The Hyundai spokesman in Seoul said Wednesday the company had no official site candidates yet. Another Hyundai spokesman, Stephen Kitson, has said a decision on where to build the plant could come within six months.
Last month, Mississippi Gov. Ronnie Musgrove and Rohrlack also traveled to South Korea, but the two have said only that they met with top business prospects.
Several other states, including Georgia and Kentucky, are reported to be in the running for the Hyundai plant.
The speculation over who'll land Hyundai is similar to the secret talks two years ago when Nissan was scouting for a site for its next North American assembly plant.
Nissan's plant near Canton, announced in November 2000, eventually is expected to have a work force of 4,000.
In mid-December, a top Nissan official sent Musgrove a letter cautioning the state that another major car manufacturer within 80 miles of the Nissan plant could impede future expansions.
Jim Morton, Nissan North America's senior vice president for finance and administration, said he would be greatly concerned'' if another auto manufacturer located in the central Mississippi area.
Musgrove has said the state would not limit sites to any company seeking to locate in Mississippi.