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Part 2 of 3: Hyundai Brings 2,000 New Jobs to Alabama

By Frank Giovinazzi, Contributing Editor AIADA

More than 20,000 applications were submitted for production and maintenance jobs at Hyundai’s new $1.1 billion plant in Montgomery, Alabama, which began production in May, 2005.

It’s fitting that while it took Hyundai three years to build it’s new $1.1 billion Montgomery manufacturing plant, it took over two years to assemble the workforce that will build the 300,000 Sonata sedans and Santa Fe SUVs the plant can produce at full production.

Kerry Christopher, Hyundai’s Montgomery spokesman, said the company "expected a lot from the people who applied," and now that the hiring is nearly complete he said, "we feel very comfortable we have the right team in place and that Montgomery was a good choice."

But Hyundai did not go it alone when putting together the team that’s staffing it’s first American assembly plant -- they enlisted and worked alongside an Alabama agency that, starting in March 2003, processed 20,000 applications, then screened and trained the final candidates.

The agency that worked with Hyundai, the Alabama Industrial Development Training [AIDT] program, has had plenty of experience building workforces for International automakers in the state.

Prior to Hyundai, AIDT screened and trained approximately 8,000 workers for Alabama plants built by Mercedes-Benz, Honda and Toyota. The agency, part of the state’s community college system, provides the training free of charge to the companies and trainees. AIDT concentrates on screening and training production and maintenance employees, while companies like Hyundai handle management hiring. The Montgomery plant’s full employment workforce of 2,000 is made up of approximately 85% AIDT-screened workers.

AIDT’s track record is so good, it was recently voted the best state-sponsored training system of its kind in the country -- beating out the other 49 states -- and is considered the driving force behind the state’s most important economic story of the last ten years.

That story, of course, are the four International nameplate manufacturing plants that have brought $3.79 billion in new investments and more than 10,000 jobs to Alabama, according to Steve Sewell, Executive VP of the Economic Development Partnership of Alabama. [see chart.]

"AIDT is a great, great advantage for economic development -- we say it’s our best incentive," Sewell said.

The four International automakers have allowed Alabama to replace jobs lost in other manufacturing sectors, Sewell said, and their success has brought "unbelievable recognition to Alabama as a place to run a business."

Each of the three original manufacturers have either already expanded or announced plans to add more capacity, and Sewell said that has bolstered the state’s reputation even further.

"The fact that they’ve come here with ambitious goals and have been successful has enhanced our reputation as a place to do business," he said.

And in addition to the jobs at the automakers, the new plants bring other manufacturing, constructions and support jobs to Alabama -- and the rest of the country. Sewell said there are 22,000 additional auto industry jobs in the state, on top of the 10,000 at the plants. In Hyundai’s case, the Montgomery plant will generate 5,500 additional jobs from a network of 64 suppliers throughout North America.

Due to the intensive nature of the screening and training -- and the sheer volume of applicants -- AIDT’s role is more necessity than luxury, according to Phyllis Wesley, spokesperson for AIDT.

"Mercedes said we did more for them than they could have while they were building the plant -- Honda’s said it, too," Wesley said. "We tell them when you’re building your plant, we’re building your workforce."

For Hyundai, AIDT performed training at a center adjacent to the plant. The 40-hour process, for which applicants are not paid, included three stages, Wesley said. The first two were basic testing, demonstrating whether the applicant had the skills they claimed, and if they had the ability to learn new skills. The final component included mock workstations that helped illustrate what the tasks would look and feel like.

After that process was complete would AIDT recommend applicants to Hyundai, who reviewed the pool and made preliminary offers. Only after passing drug tests, and physical and background screens, would the applicants then receive a final offer.

Kerry Christopher, of Hyundai, said the company is more than pleased with the results of their collaboration with AIDT. About the team members they’ve brought together to build the first American-made Hyundai’s, Christopher said, "everyone has a positive outlook, people here are very excited."

International Nameplate Manufacturing in Alabama

Hyundai Motor Manufacturing Alabama Location / Production Start: Montgomery / 2005 Capital Investment: $1.1 billion Employees: 2,000 team members (At full production) Production Capacity: 300,000 engines and vehicles annually (at full production) Plant Size: 2 million square feet Products: Sonata sedan, Santa Fe SUV and V6 engines

Mercedes-Benz U.S. International Location / Production Start: Tuscaloosa Co. / 1997 Capital Investment: $1 billion Employees: 4,000 team members (at full production following expansion) Production Capacity: 160,000 vehicles annually Plant size: 3 million square feet Products: M-Class SUV and R-Class Grand Sports Tourer

Honda Manufacturing of Alabama Location / Production Start: Lincoln / 2001 Capital Investment: $1.2 billion ($1.27 billion after engine expansion) Employees: 4,400 associates (4,500 after engine expansion) Production Capacity: 300,000 vehicles and engines annually Plant size: 3.1 million square feet (3.25 million after expansion) Products: Odyssey minivan, Pilot SUV and V6 engines

Toyota Motor Manufacturing Alabama Location / Production Start: Huntsville / 2003 Capital Investment: $490 million (including announced $250 million expansion) Employees: 800 team members (300 positions with expansion) Production Capacity: 400,000 engines annually (upon completion of expansion) Plant Size: 300,000 square feet Products: V6 engines for Tundra and Tacoma pickups, V8 engines for Tundra pickups and Sequoia SUVs Source: Economic Development Partnership of Alabama