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Perdue hauls in big catch with high-priced rod, reel

Gov. Sonny Perdue really needed to land a big fish, and he got one with last week's announcement that Kia Motors Corp. will build its first U.S. auto plant in Georgia.

Until Perdue's successful whirlwind trip to South Korea last weekend, he and his state had been hit with one economic blow after another.

On the automotive front, General Motors and Ford have announced plans to shut down factories that have been longstanding fixtures in Doraville and Hapeville, respectively. That news followed DaimlerChrysler's decision to pull the plug on building a van plant in Pooler, a project former Gov. Roy Barnes had trumpeted with great fanfare in 2002.

Also, Atlanta-based Delta Air Lines has filed for bankruptcy, and Georgia has lost the headquarters of Georgia-Pacific, Scientific-Atlanta and BellSouth to other states because of mergers.

And in southwestern Georgia, Merck announced last fall that it would be closing its pharmaceuticals plant in Albany.

But now, Kia will break ground in Troup County in late April on a factory expected to employ at least 2,500 workers when it opens in 2009.

That number could go even higher, to 2,900, along with another 2,600 jobs expected to be generated by five suppliers that will service the plant, the governor said during a news conference last week.

"With all the bad corporate news we've been hearing in this town, this is the first positive news,'' said Rajeev Dhawan, director of the Economic Forecasting Center at Georgia State University.

"They will most likely be high-paying jobs in the manufacturing sector, which is pretty rare these days.''

Besides the economic jolt offered by the pay, manufacturing jobs also are highly sought by business recruiters because they tend to have a larger "multiplier effect'' than jobs created in service industries. Those suppliers Perdue spoke of are an example of that spinoff trend.

"This will probably be twice as much as the hospitality industry,'' Dhawan said.

But the Kia deal has its detractors among Perdue's critics based on what it took for the state to lure the automaker to Georgia.

The laundry list of incentives Georgia put on the table includes more than $30 million for site preparation and a rail spur, $30 million in road improvements surrounding the site, $20 million to build a training center and another $5 million for a training program. On top of that is a whopping package of tax breaks worth up to $94 million.

Figured on a per-job basis, the price tag comes to just less than $90,000 in state funds but about $160,000 when you throw in local government contributions.

That's a lot of money for a Republican governor who criticized Democrat Barnes for opening up the state's checkbook to lure DaimlerChrysler.

Georgia Democratic Party spokesman Emil Runge said the deal smacks of election-year politics by a governor looking to win a second term.

"He desperately needed something,'' Runge said. "The economic news in Georgia has been horrible under his tenure.''

But Perdue characterized the state's offer as a good "long-term investment'' that Georgia needed to make to win the contract over competing states. He noted that Mississippi was so anxious to land the Kia plant that it was willing to use Hurricane Katrina relief funds to sweeten the pot.

"We have not tried to buy business, and we didn't in this case,'' the governor said. "Georgia has a lot to offer from the workplace and training perspective. We sold the assets we have. We didn't panic.''

Some of those assets include autoworkers soon to be unemployed, particularly those who work at the Ford plant south of Atlanta and might be willing to commute over to West Point.

"(Kia) will welcome workers with skills already built up,'' Dhawan said. "It will take less time to train them.''

Dave Williams is a staff writer for the Gwinnett Daily Post. E-mail him at dave.williams@gwinnettdailypost.com.