There's not too much that brings the nation's two political parties together these days. The nation is as polarized as it's ever been, at least since the Civil War.

But one thing does appear to get Democrats and Republicans on the same page: Money.

We saw that over the last two months in the dispute between SK Battery and LG Chem over allegations that SK stole trade secrets from LG.

The dispute between those two South Korean industrial conglomerates threatened to derail SK's electric vehicle battery plants now under construction in Commerce.

A lot was at state: A $2.6 billion industrial development in the state and 2,600 jobs. Perhaps even bigger is the potential for such a mega-industry to spark a major EV vehicle investment in the area over the next 20 years.

In a rare show of agreement, both Democrats and Republicans agreed that SK should be allowed to build its factories despite having lost the trade dispute before the International Trade Commission.

Leaders from both parties in Georgia heavily lobbied President Joe Biden to overturn the ITC's ruling. 

Money, it seems, makes for strange bedfellows.

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At the core of the politics was this: Everyone wanted to be the hero and nobody wanted to be the goat.

High on that list is GOP Gov. Brian Kemp who will likely face a tough re-election in 2022, perhaps even with a challenger from within his own party.

Of all the state's leaders, Kemp certainly didn't want to be blamed if the SK deal had blown up. He didn't need that baggage on top of a lot of other issues he faces.

And he would have been blamed, unjustly perhaps, but as governor, he would have taken the hit if SK had backed out of the deal. 

In a statement Sunday, Kemp made it clear that he was at the table helping work out the eventual settlement.

"I have personally participated in countless meetings, calls, and other conversations to make sure this project and the 2,600 expected jobs continued to move forward," he said.

Earlier, Kemp had openly lobbied the Biden Administration to overturn the ITC ruling and allow SK to move forward with its EV battery plants.

That was an interesting dynamic given the state's recent political history. Republican Kemp was one of the few GOP leaders in the nation with enough courage to stand up to the ousted Donald Trump. Trump had attempted to strong-arm Kemp and other Georgia leaders into changing the state's election results, which had narrowly gone to Biden.

So in an indirect way, Biden perhaps owed Kemp a debt of gratitude for doing the right thing in the face of a huge political backlash from Trump and his acolytes in the state.

Still, a Republican governor asking a Democratic president for a political favor in the shadow of a bitter presidential race was striking. 

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Not to be outdone, state Democrats also rushed to take credit for "saving" the SK battery plants.

Both Democratic Sen. Raphael Warnock and Sen. Jon Ossoff issued news releases Sunday taking credit for the SK resolution.

A couple of weeks ago, leaders from Warnock's office told members of the Jackson County Area Chamber of Commerce that the SK problem had been one of their top issues since taking office in January.

Sunday, Warnock embraced the deal, taking a share of the credit:

"Senator Warnock was integrally involved in the process to move SK Innovation and LG Chem towards a settlement, which the Senator believed strongly was the best way to ensure the jobs promised from the Commerce plant will come to fruition," said a news release from the Senator's office.

Meanwhile, down the hall, Ossoff's office took major credit for the deal:

"Over multiple meetings with senior executives from both companies and in close consultation with senior Biden Administration officials, Sen. Ossoff jumpstarted negotiations that were at an impasse a week ago to secure a deal and save the 2,600 Georgia jobs, working behind the scenes to secure a settlement that saved the Georgia battery plant ahead of the April 11 presidential veto deadline," said Ossoff's statement.

Of key interest, SK's CEO gave Ossoff credit for the deal with this comment:

“When the future of the plant was in jeopardy, Senator Ossoff provided leadership and helped us achieve a path forward,” said Jun Kim, the company’s chief executive.

Interestingly, the Georgia department of economic development director thanked everyone but the two Democrats:

“I’d like to give special thanks to Governor Brian Kemp for his tireless support throughout this process, to the Office of the United States Trade Representative who helped facilitate the negotiations, and to Korean Consul General in Atlanta, Young-jun Kim, for his partnership,” said EconDev director Pat Wilson.

•••

We may never know the full picture of the dealmaking, but it's likely that Kemp, Warnock and Ossoff all had a hand in the outcome.

But even more importantly, I suspect, was Biden's role. It seems likely to me that Biden called SK's bluff and told the firm's leaders he wasn't going to save them by overturning the ITC ruling. SK had been threatening to leave the U.S. battery market if Biden didn't save them, a move that would have, for a time, disrupted some existing EV production deals.

But behind the scenes, LG had reportedly told state leaders they their firm would pick up the slack, either by buying the SK plants under construction, or by building their own EV battery plants in the state. 

So it seems probable that Biden had the strongest hand and used it to force SK to settle. For its part, SK had already invested so much in its two plants in money and prestige, it really couldn't afford to just walk away without creating problems in other countries where it's building EV battery plants.

•••

For Jackson County and Commerce leaders, the SK-LG dispute was a real danger. While they lacked the leverage to force a deal, they were pretty confident all along that in the end, SK would continue with its plans to make EV batteries in Commerce. 

The plants have already put Commerce in the international map. With EV projected to grow in the coming years, Northeast Georgia could become an automotive hub in the South.

But it's not all wine and roses.

The boom in growth such a huge plant will bring is going to challenge local leaders like they've never been challenged before.

For one thing, area housing prices are going to skyrocket. There's not much supply and there will be a huge demand. Residential developers are going to hammer local governments for zoning approvals. The demand for infrastructure — roads, water, sewerage — will put a lot of pressure on local governments.

In the larger picture, the labor force will become even tighter. Area firms are already begging for employees; where will all the new workers come from? 

Among the hardest hit local governments will be school systems. The county school system is already booming, especially in the west side of the county. If there's a housing boom on the east side, that demand will double.

The Commerce City School System could also be hit hard. It's a small system and paying for growth will be a challenge given he realities of how public schools are funded in the state.

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Here's the bottom line: SK Battery and its parent company are the Godzilla in the room. They're larger financially than the rest of Jackson County combined. 

Commerce and Jackson County have hitched their future to a giant of a company. It may make the county rich in the coming decades. It will certainly force a lot of changes.

Since the 1970s, Jackson County leaders have dreamed of a deal like this, a game-changing investment.

But a word of caution: He who pays the band calls the tunes.

Mike Buffington is co-publisher of Mainstreet Newspapers. He can be reached at mike@mainstreetnews.com.

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