Commerce Mayor Clark Hill again used a city council meeting to tout the progress and importance of the SK Battery facilities being built in Commerce at the council’s Oct. 19 meeting.
Last month, Hill reviewed the tax incentive package given to lure the Korean firm to Commerce. This week, Hill had several people discuss other aspects of the plant, including its proposed labor force, where the employees are coming from and how the state of Georgia is working with SK to fill the workforce.
SK has partnered with Georgia Quick Start, a program that works with industrial prospects for the state to develop a curriculum and recruit a workforce suitable for the SK facility.
Bruce Batton, director of the northern operations for the Georgia Quick Start program, said the partnership between SK and Quick Start began in January 2019. In August of 2019, Quick Start took a team to South Korea to visit with members of a facility that manufactures a similar type battery to those produced at the Commerce location. Information was gathered and brought back to Georgia where the team began to design and development hiring plans. SK is currently constructing four facilities throughout the US and Europe and Batton said the Commerce site will be the most modern facility. “Even though the information gathered from the South Korea facility is very good information about the process, the processing equipment to be in operation at the Commerce facility is much more modern,” said Batton.
In July, the program focused on core team training for supervisors and engineers that were initially hired to get things up and going. In November, Quick Start is planning to kick off operator training. “There are major areas of production within the facility that we are working with to continue to develop the best workforce training that we can for the folks here,” said Batton.
“We want to make sure the people hired by SK are provided the best and most current information on what they are going to be doing within the facility,” said Batton.
The scope of training to be provided to newly hired SK employees will cover safety, job specific duties in the major production areas, advanced manufacturing technology for maintenance workers, leadership and organizational development and continuing improvement components to help SK not only start the operation up but to get more efficient over time.
The Georgia Department of Labor will handle recruitment of employees. Once a potential employee has been screened and interviewed, the person will participate in a testing process to help ensure SK is getting quality employees.
Steve Jahng, relationship officer for SK Battery, outlined plans for the number of employees to be hired at the facility. Job openings are currently advertised in various hiring outlets such as the Georgia Department of Labor, Linkedin and Indeed, drawing applicants from a 40-mile radius.
In addition to the partnership with Quick Start, Jahng said SK is working with Lanier Technical College as well as the Empower College and Career Center in Jefferson (EC3) working on duel enrollment with the county school students to prepare the students to enter into the SK workforce.
Jim Scott, president of the Jackson County Community Outreach program, asked if job information for the particular skill sets required for certain positions is being disseminated into the community.
“We need to get our people hired here,” said Scott.
Scott said the outreach program has a very dynamic tech college scholarship program and they are currently pushing the skills that SK is looking for.
“Our objective is to put our young people here in line for supervisory and technician positions at the plant,” noted Scott.
Jahng reported SK currently has about 60 workers with plans to employee up to 230 employees by the end of the year, including administration, engineering and production workers.
By the end of 2021, plans call for the plant to operate with up to 1,140 with production workers making up 1,000 of the positions.
At the end of 2024, the facility will be operating under the optimal number of employees totaling over 2,600 employees with over 2,400 reported as production staff.
Jahng said starting salary for production workers will average $15 per hour. Jahng said the facility will operate three shifts.
In regard to traffic issues at the facility, with construction of the second building underway, in addition to construction workers at the first building, the plant averages 1,500-1,800 people at the facility at any given time, an indication of the amount of traffic that will be generated once the facility is up and running.
Jahng said he has been meeting with the city manager and county manager to discuss plans for improving traffic flow in the area of the facility.
When asked about the potential for hazardous discharge, Jahng said no hazardous material will be emitted from the facility.
“This is the United States of America and they are not going to permit us to do anything if it isn’t environmentally allowed,” said Jahng. “I can guarantee you there will be nothing hazardous hitting the regions water system or environment at all.”
Mayor Hill plans to continue to provide updates on the SK development at future council meeting covering different topics, such as utilities and EPA regulations.
“We will have tons more information forthcoming as we will try to keep everyone informed,” said Hill.
In other business, the council:
• approved a request from Betty and Tom Rogers, Lathan Road, for a setback variance from the required twenty- five feet to twenty feet along with a reduction of a stream buffer.
• postponed action on a request from Mike Malerba for a setback variance to reduce side setbacks from 25 feet to 15 feet for lots in a proposed residential development on Mount Olive Road. The council had previously approved the setbacks and house sizes for one-third acre lots within the proposed development. The council agreed to table action in order for staff to meet with the developer to prepare a proposal to determine what setback variances may be needed for each lot. Due to the growing number of requests coming before the planning commission, Mayor Hill said the planning commission is requesting guidance from the council regarding the limitation the council is willing to consider when reviewing requests for variance from designated setbacks.
• denied a request from Rebecca Tapp to construct an above ground pool at 143 Minish Drive. Ms. Tapp began construction of the pool prior to receiving a permit or requesting a variance and the pool was placed in the side yard instead of behind the rear line of the home. The pool will have to be removed.
• approved a request, with conditions, for Amanda Welchel and Doris Stevens to convert a detached garage at 39 Willow Street into living space for an elderly family member. The property owner had applied for and received permits for improvements before being informed the use is not allowed due to the owners’ inability to meet certain requirements for use of the detached building. Due to an increased demand for similar uses, staff is working on an ordinance to address pool houses, carriage houses and in-law suites.
• heard that Ridgeland Land Planning withdrew a request for annexation and rezoning of 43.309 acres located on Haggard Road.
• tabled action on a reduction of the required lot size requirement from 1.5 acres to 1.08 acres in order to operate an automobile sales lot at 697 South Elm Street. The council tabled action on the request to allow staff to come back with a specific set of planned improvements, including plans for parking and the number of vehicles permitted to be placed on the property.
• approved some amendments to the FY 2020-2021 budget.
• approved a request for retail sale of beer and wine at the Texaco Food Mart located at 614 South Broad Street.
• met in closed session to discuss personnel and pending litigation.