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Top guns' working on Hyundai project

By Staff
From staff and wire reports
Feb. 6, 2002
JACKSON  Mississippi is putting its political muscle behind an effort to land a billion-dollar Hyundai Motor Co. manufacturing plant that could help generate as many as 10,000 new jobs.
The state is in intense competition with Alabama, Kentucky and Ohio for the facility, which could directly employ 2,000 workers and create an additional 8,000 jobs in the service and maintenance sectors.
Mississippi's top political guns have visited the South Korean carmaker's home plant as they attempt to persuade Hyundai to build its first U.S. auto assembly plant in the state.
Gov. Ronnie Musgrove, Senate Minority Leader Trent Lott, and Reps. Chip Pickering and Roger Wicker, both R-Miss., were in South Korea in recent days meeting with Hyundai executives in Seoul.
Officials with the South Korean automaker said Musgrove met with Hyundai chairman Chung Mong-koo on Monday and toured a Hyundai assembly line Tuesday.
I can say only that the Mississippi governor is in town and is visiting one of our plants today,'' Stephen Kitson, a Hyundai spokesman in Seoul, said Tuesday.
Lott spokesman Lee Youngblood said the senator led a congressional delegation to South Korea on Saturday to discuss trade issues and other topics and to meet with Hyundai officials. Youngblood said Lott had scheduled meetings with South Korean President Kim Dae-jung and top U.S. military and diplomatic leaders.
Observers have said Lott's status in the Republican Party and his access to the White House give Mississippi the political edge over the other states on Hyundai's short list announced Jan. 25.
Analysts say Lott and his Senate colleague from Mississippi, Republican Thad Cochran, could assist Hyundai in establishing more favorable trade relations with the United States.
Musgrove has now traveled twice to South Korea since December. Top Hyundai executives, including president Kim Dong-jin, visited Mississippi two weeks ago, apparently to look at possible sites for the proposed plant.
Kitson said the Mississippi governor is the last of about a dozen representatives from the four candidate states who have wanted to visit Hyundai's head office for consultations.
Bob Rohrlack, executive director of the Mississippi Development Authority, traveled with Musgrove, who was scheduled back at the state Capitol today.
Now, we're in the final stage of making a decision,'' Kitson said. We'll consider all factors incentives, transportation, manpower skills and support facilities to make the decision.''
Hyundai has said its choice will be made by the first half of the year.
We're pleased to be on the short list for another billion-dollar auto plant,'' MDA spokeswoman Sherry Vance said Tuesday, referring to the Nissan North America plant under construction in Madison County. One of our goals is to bring higher-paying jobs to the state.''
One senior Hyundai official, speaking on condition of anonymity, told The Associated Press on Tuesday that given the time now, the final decision could be made in the early part of the second quarter.''
The final decision, the official said, will be made after Hyundai chairman Chung inspects highly potential'' candidate sites to be recommended by the company's task force working on the project.
It has not been decided when Chung will make the trip, he said.
Hyundai plans to produce 300,000 cars at the U.S. plant, with production to begin in 2005. Hyundai makes the Accent, Elantra and Sonata, among other vehicles. Analysts say the new plant would likely manufacture the Sonata and the Sante Fe, a sport utility vehicle.
Hyundai officials have said building a plant in the United States would become economically feasible when their sales in the North American market reach 500,000 cars a year. The carmaker surpassed the target last year.