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A look at how Hyundai came to Bryan County
Hyundai 0522 3
A crowd shot during the Friday, May 20, 2022 announcement Hyundai is building an EV plant at the Black Creek Mega-Site. - photo by Jeff Whitten

Unless you’ve been living off the grid the past week, you already know the scoop.

Hyundai is coming to the Bryan County Mega-Site.

What’s more, officials say the Korean automaker is bringing more than $5.4 billion in investment and 8,100 jobs with it in what is being touted as the single biggest such project in state history. Add in another $1 billion for a related project, and the investment in Bryan County is roughly four times the county’s entire 2021 tax digest of approximately $1.6 billion.

Yet until earlier this month, the news was also one of the best kept secrets in Bryan County.

And then, earlier this month, reports came from Atlanta that Kia, an automaker under the Hyundai Motor Group umbrella, was looking at the Mega- Site. Those reports were obviously a bit off the mark. Likely due to nondisclosure agreements, a standard in such negotiations, local officials kept their counsel. Both Anna Chafin, CEO of the Development Authority of Bryan County, and Tripp Tolleson, CEO of the Savannah Economic Development Authority and a partner with Chafin on the Savannah Harbor-I-16 Corridor Joint Development Authority, which is chaired by Bryan County Commission Chairman Carter Infinger, declined comment as the process neared a milestone of sorts with Gov. Brian Kemp’s formal announcement May 20.

It’s a process that still has a ways to go.

But it’s an evolution from pine trees and sand dunes and dirt roads what will eventually become a manufacturing site that began, in a way, back in 2015 when local officials sought to bring Volvo to the then-1,900 acre site in Black Creek.

County officials at the time also spoke to Land Rover, former-County Commission Chairman Jimmy Burnsed said Friday, but the Volvo project was expected to be roughly $600 million and bring in 2,000 jobs. Instead, in May 2015, Volvo announced it had chosen a site in South Carolina.

For Burnsed, there was a sense the Mega-Site wouldn’t sit vacant for long.

“We knew something was going to happen, even before the state bought it,” Burnsed said. “All the developers and the Georgia Department of Economic Development always said it was the best site in the southeastern United States. All they had to do was put it together and pay for it, and here we are. But we knew it was special.”

Fast forward to May 2021, and Kemp announced the state was buying the Mega-Site, which has since grown to more than 2,900 acres to accommodate the additional investment.

Chafiin said acquiring the land – the state is paying $61 million with Bryan County’s share at $9 million – was a priority, particularly given the growth in the number of warehouses spring up in North Bryan to accommodate the Savannah Port.

“Over the past 12 to 24 months I think several thousand acres have been rezoned in North Bryan, with a potential there for about 37 million square feet (of warehouse space),” she said.

Had the state not bought the Mega-Site, she continued, then the property might’ve been bought by private developers and converted into warehouse distribution centers.

“That’s great for the county it’s great for the region and it helps support the growth at the port,” Chafin said. “But In order to help diversify our economy and provide quality manufacturing jobs, it was essential that property got acquired by last summer, and I don’t know if it would have been available had we waited.”

Kemp announced to the world in June, 2021 that the site was available. On Jan. 6, 2022, word came that a consultant, KPMG, was reaching out to state economic officials on behalf on an automaker with interest in the Mega-Site. Before the month of January was out, the company sent an advance team to visit.

Two more meetings here occurred in February, and there were trips from local economic officials to Atlanta and California, as well as a number of Skype calls.

Tolleson can tell you exactly when the state got a commitment from Hyundai: 10:32 p.m. April 25, 2022.

“We’ll never forget that day as long as we live,” he said. Chafin, at the time in the SEDA office near Forysth Park in Savannah said she called Infinger at 11 p.m. to tell him the news. A celebration followed. Now, work is expected to begin on site preparation in July, with construction on Hyundai Motor Group’s first “fully dedicated electric vehicle and battery manufacturing facility” set to start in January and the company plans on being operational in 2025. The company will reportedly start looking for local vendors as the company nears that date. At Friday’s signing ceremony, Hyundai Motor Company President and CEO Jaehoon “Jay” Chang, said that the company chose to build its new plant in the U.S. “because America embraces change and drives innovation.” Later, he said Hyundai was “proud to call the people of Georgia family and proud to call Bryan County Home.”

Editor’s note: We’re just scratching the surface of this story, one of the most widely reported in the world right now. Look for a different angle next week.

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