Kia Motors Corp. will waste no time in setting up its first North American manufacturing plant in West Point, GA.

A company spokesman tells Ward's the auto maker will begin hiring top-tier staff for the facility in the second half of 2006.

What he doesn’t say is if those employed at General Motors Corp. and Ford Motor Co.’s doomed plants in Doraville and Hapeville, GA, respectively, will be considered for employment at West Point.

“Regarding (Kia hiring) Ford and GM workers, we feel that it is too early to raise this issue at this time,” the spokesman says.

A spokeswoman for the Georgia Dept. of Economic Development says she’d be “surprised if some of the (Kia) workforce did not have past automotive experience.

“We’re encouraging Georgians with auto manufacturing experience to seek out these new opportunities,” she says of Kia’s new plant.

Kim Hill, an analyst with the Center for Automotive Research in Ann Arbor, MI, suspects “a substantial amount” of Doraville and Hapeville workers will apply to work for Kia, as there is not much distance, about 81 miles (130 km), between suburban Atlanta, where the GM and Ford plants are, and West Point.

GM’s Doraville plant, which builds its under-performing minivans, is set to close in 2008, while Ford’s Hapeville facility, which builds the fleet-only Taurus, will be shuttered this year.

Hill doubts union loyalty will play much of a role in whether Doraville and Hapeville workers decide to apply to Kia because automotive manufacturing jobs aren’t easy to come by anymore.

“People realize these days, whether you’re in a union or not, or you’re a staunch union supporter, the reality is, where are the jobs?” Hill asks.

“And frankly, from what we’ve seen, I know that there are differences in these plants, but the conditions and the rate of pay and the benefits are very comparable amongst the unionized and non-unionized plants.”

However, Hill doubts Kia will want to hire displaced Doraville and Hapeville workers.

“I think these new domestics would prefer to get brand-new workers, workers that haven’t worked (at any automotive plant),” he says. “It’s not so much they’re Ford or GM workers, (or even) laid-off Honda workers. What they want is to get them in and teach them their specific way, their techniques.”

Kia says there will be no minimum experience requirement for line workers, suggesting they are leaning toward molding employees with no automotive manufacturing experience, although the spokesman says “the more, the better,” in regards to applicants’ work histories.

Kia will provide each assembly line employee with at least six months of training, both in Korea and locally in Georgia, he says.

Part of Kia’s incentive package from the State of Georgia is $20.2 million for an on-site training facility.

While Kia’s plant is just 71 miles (114 km) from sister company Hyundai Motor Co. Ltd.’s Montgomery, AL, plant, there will be no “direct support from Hyundai” in establishing West Point, the spokesman says.

However, “some benchmarking of the Hyundai facility will be conducted,” he adds.

Kia has not announced what models it will build at West Point. The company spokesman says a decision will be made on that issue by the end of this year.

cschweinsberg@wardsauto.com