Mississippi governor, Haley Barbour, said Thursday that representatives of KIA told him during a recent economic development to Asia that they are interested in building a plant in Lauderdale County.
Barbour says the company proposed the site near Meridian to him because of its proximity to the Hyundai plant in Montgomery, Ala. KIA Motors is a subsidiary of Hyundai.
After a meeting with Barbour recently, KIA told a Korean newspaper it is interested in Mississippi and that Lauderdale County was emerging as the key contender for the site.
Barbour did caution that all of this is in its very initial stages.
"I was not expecting KIA to make a public announcement the day of our visit. That's how they chose to proceed, which is fine. But it's very, very preliminary and KIA has publicly said it's looking at other states."
Despite the governor's comments, local officials are refusing to comment on the matter. Mayor John Robert Smith said he never comments on economic development matters before they are final.
The potential site for the KIA plant is actually in Kewanee, just on the Alabama border in eastern Lauderdale County.
Meridian officials have been working for some time on the site that could accommodate a large-scale automobile plant.
Meanwhile, Lauderdale County officials are developing and taking options on much of the property in the area.
The governor's full August 18 statement about his job creation mission in Asia is below:
"For the last two and a half weeks, I have been in East Asia on a trip to spur investment, trade, and tourism for Mississippi. We met with companies that already have a presence in Mississippi, such as Nissan; companies that do not have a presence in Mississippi but are considering future expansions in the U.S.; companies that are customers for Mississippi products; and private tour and travel operators as well as a variety of government officials. While much of what we worked on are long-term projects, I am very pleased with the response we received.
First, the group from MDA and I met with the leadership of Nissan to strengthen that crucial and very positive relationship. Carlos Ghosn, the CEO of the company, and his top leadership team hosted us for dinner, and we were joined by Tom Schieffer, the new U.S. Ambassador to Japan. It did my heart good to hear Mr. Ghosn tell our country's ambassador how pleased Nissan is with its decision to come to Mississippi. He was very complimentary of our workforce, praised the cooperation Nissan has received from the state and local governments, and gave great credit to the Canton plant for the tremendous success Nissan is enjoying in the United States today. I considered it a sincere compliment to the workers at the Canton plant and to those at Nissan suppliers across central Mississippi.
In Japan, we also visited with the leadership of several companies that have Nissan supplier operations in Mississippi.
On August 4 Mississippi hosted the U.S. Pavilion at the 2005 World Expo in Aichi, Japan. Our focus there was tourism. Japan has a huge traveling public, and we met with a group of tour operators to expose them to what a great tourist destination Mississippi is today. The response was very positive, as was the case with tourism officials in Hong Kong and Taipei.
By the way, Mississippi architect Bud Holloman designed the U.S. Pavilion at the World's Fair, and it is fabulous. All the rest of Mississippi can be very proud of the outstanding and distinctive design.
Some of our visits in Japan will have to stay confidential for now; but suffice it to say, we met with several companies that are potential investors in our state. It will take some time to follow-up and further develop these contacts; however, we will make information public as soon as the appropriate time arrives.
In Korea, we met with the Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of Hyundai Motors, parent of KIA, and with KIA's top leadership. After our meeting, KIA made public that Meridian, Mississippi, is one area that the company is considering for construction of a new automotive assembly plant.
Let me emphasize: KIA proposed Meridian to us. My administration's policy is to show every potential site in the state that might qualify to any prospect that is considering Mississippi. In this case, however, KIA told us that it is specifically interested in the Meridian area because of Meridian's proximity to the Hyundai plant that is already operating in Montgomery, Alabama.
You will recall that Alabama and Mississippi have been working together to develop an industrial site that the two states can jointly promote. After the meeting with KIA I spoke with Governor Riley of Alabama, and the Mississippi Development Authority is working with its Alabama counterpart. It is our goal for the two states to work together and jointly promote development of a KIA plant in the Meridian West Alabama * East Mississippi area.
It is very important for you and the public to understand that we are in the very preliminary stages of our conversations with KIA. Normally, we would not even make these discussions public because they are at the beginning stages; but since KIA publicly announced their interest in Meridian, I want to share with the media all the appropriate information.
Very importantly, KIA has also publicly said it is considering sites in other states, so people should not let their expectations get out of hand. These are still very preliminary discussions, and it will be quite a while before we know where they will lead.
After our meetings in Korea, we traveled to the Peoples Republic of China (PRC) where we met with government officials and industry executives. China is a tremendous market and is increasingly a source of large numbers of tourists. We also met to discuss potential investment by Chinese companies in Mississippi, and we hosted a number of representatives of Mississippi companies that are selling products into the PRC.
Finally, our meetings in Hong Kong and Taiwan focused on the same three issues: investment, trade and tourism.
We are now following up with the contacts we made in Asia and with companies and economic development officials in Mississippi. The process will continue for months to come."