Georgians may not know the full story regarding the successful effort to keep the SK Innovation battery plant in Commerce operational. The resulting legal settlement to ensure that happened was an effort that put the people of Georgia above partisan politics.
The project is the state’s largest foreign investment ever. Indeed, the two–phase electric vehicle battery plant infuses $2.6 billion and 2,600 jobs into the Georgia economy and is a critical component of this nation’s green energy future.
Located in Commerce, the plant is championed locally by Jackson County Chamber president Jim Shaw and Commerce Mayor Clark Hill. Attendant to the $2.6 billion SK Innovation deal are its co-locating suppliers which bring the total Georgia impact of investment and jobs to nearly $10 billion and 10,000 jobs, respectively. And Georgia’s SK Innovation plant is the sole-source supplier in the U.S. for Ford F–150 and Volkswagen batteries.
The recent court mess stemmed from SK’s competitive feud with LG Chem, another South Korean global giant in the energy business. In fact, the South Korean government is currently negotiating a resolution to decades of accusations, offenses and perceived retaliatory maneuvers of the two companies. Anyhow, on February 10, the International Trade Commission issued an order based not on a finding of theft of trade secrets by SK Innovation (as LG Chem had urged) but on the admitted destruction of documents by SK (years previously in Korea and in compliance with South Korean law), which document destruction that U.S. law construes against the entity destroying documents.
In essence, the ITC presumed that LG’s claims would be correct had the documents not been destroyed. It did not find that LG’s claims were correct. So in the aftermath of all this, Georgia became stuck in the crosshairs of a seemingly intractable global dispute.
In order to save these jobs and this investment, the state implemented a “One Georgia” approach. The idea was that there were no Republican or Democratic jobs, so there would be no Republican or Democratic solution.
Here’s the rest of the story. Early on, Georgia Chamber of Commerce CEO Chris Clark worked with the governor’s office, Economic Development Director Pat Wilson, and the dean of the state House of Representatives Calvin Smyre to initiate support for SK Innovation. Former United Nations Ambassador Andrew Young and former Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Carol Browner also joined the team.
The Georgia Chamber and Gov. Brian Kemp were prepared to fight to the end to keep these jobs they had worked so hard to bring to Georgia. Seasoned political veterans like Smyre and Young had direct connections to the new Biden administration, which could help make the presidential set–aside happen. Many wondered whether Georgia’s dilemma would catch or hold President Joe Biden’s attention. Fortunately, Georgia had the right people in place to make that happen.
Georgia’s shifting political sands and its new need for Democratic bona fides became crucial. In this connection, U.S. Sen. Raphael Warnock spoke with President Joe Biden, key Cabinet members and senators. Because of the direct appeals from Warnock, Gov. Brian Kemp and others, Biden assigned U.S. Trade Representative Catherine Tai to resolve the SK Innovation and LG Chem dispute, or to make a recommendation as to a set–aside decision.
U.S. Sen. Jon Ossoff‘s efforts in the last days of the negotiations helped bring the solution home. He facilitated the talks led by U.S. Trade Representative Catherine Tai. In the end, Biden did not have to set aside the ITC order. The parties agreed to a compromise solution that left the plant intact.
An SK Innovation spokesperson summed up the legal settlement:
“Our successful outcome was due in large part to the tremendous support we received from the state’s elected officials on both sides of the aisle. Governor Kemp’s leadership proved essential, and Senators Warnock and Ossoff were quick to offer their assistance. Our gratitude extends to the Georgia congressional delegation and state legislature, to Jackson County and to the city of Commerce. Georgia is now positioned to be the nation’s leader in electric vehicle battery production.”