From Atlanta Airport, after taking the I-85 highway that runs north-south across Georgia for about 130km, you will arrive at SK Battery America (“SKBA”), the U.S. site of SK Innovation’s Battery Business.
As part of SK Innovation’s Deep Change, the battery business, which is emerging as a next-generation growth business, is rapidly expanding beyond Korea to the global market. Among them, the U.S. is one of the largest market for electric vehicles (EV), thus SKBA is undeniably a key business site of our company.
▲ SK Battery America’s manufacturing plant is located at Commerce City, Jackson County, Georgia, USA
Being the first EV battery manufacturing subsidiary of SK Innovation’s Battery Business in the U.S., SKBA was established as coalescence of the entire company’ competencies. As SKBA was in need of securing various necessary functions in the beginning, I was dispatched to SKBA in June last year following our company-wide decision. Considering the local situation that requires quick stability, I was in charge of internal/external communication, strengthening our brand, and supporting other local members’ works.
I went to Georgia when the COVID-19 outbreak was its peak all around the world, so it was most important for me personally to stay safe from the virus while getting adapt to American life. At that time SKBA was still under construction, and it has strict protocol to ensure everyone’s safety amidst the pandemic. After going through COVID-19 testing and quarantine with the help of other Korean colleagues who had been dispatched earlier and the local staff, I was able to go to work as a member of SKBA in a temporary office.
▲ Kim Jeong-hoon got COVID-19 vaccine at Georgia while he was working at SKBA
My first temporary office was located about a five-minute drive from SKBA construction site. At the end of last year, when the construction of the first factory was nearly completed, I changed to work in a temporary container at the site. Then when the administrative building was completed in May this year, I finally moved into SKBA’s official office space. Looking back on those days, I can say that it was a special memory to experience all kinds of workspace at SKBA during my short tenure of one year there.
▲ View of fall from SKBA’s temporary office last year
| Unforgettable memories with the local government and community, our reliable allies
The City of Commerce, Georgia is not a crowded city, and SKBA’s temporary office was located in particularly remote location. However, during my time at SKBA, I could always feel the strong bond among people while working with local governments and community stakeholders.
The first person that I would like to mention is Dr. John Clark Hill, the Mayor of Commerce, one of SKBA’s most reliable allies. My first encounter with him was not a situation that I had imagined. It happened in the fall of last year, when I had barely known about the people here but the mission to promote SK battery business in Georgia and the U.S. could not wait. Inviting Mayor Clark Hill as a special guest for an interview at SKBA’s temporary office was one of the first records that I was in charge of after arriving there.
▲ (Left) Dr. Clark Hill, Mayor of Commerce appeared as a guest in an interview organized by Kim Jeong-hoon at SKBA / (Right) Dr. Clark Hill during his visit to SK Innovation headquarters in February 2019
That day, it was almost time for the scheduled interview we had arranged, but I could not reach the Mayor. While I was restless, worrying about the situation, the local HR manager suggested that I see him in person. I was bewildered at the thought, “How do we know where he is and how to try to pick him up?” I was even more surprised when the HR manager strode into the office in the building nearby and said to a nurse that we had an appointment with Dr. Clark Hill. The nurse replied that Dr. Clark Hill was treating the last patient in the morning, and that was when I found out that Mayor Clark Hill’s main job is a real a doctor. He is running a hospital that is only about three-minute walk from SKBA’s office. He is a Mayor, but also a doctor, so it was obvious that appointments with patients have to be prioritized. That was how I learned more about American people and culture, and my genuine respect for Dr. Clark Hill increased even more.
I also had great experiences working in various events attended by other government officials of Georgia, Jackson County, and City of Commerce, including Georgia Governor Brian Kemp, Commissioner of the Georgia Department of Economic Development Pat Wilson. It can be said that SKBA and SK Innovation’s Battery Business as a whole are still newbies in the U.S. market. Therefore, it was essential for us, who seek to grow together with the local community, to build mutual trust through active cooperation with local governments from the beginning.
▲ (Left photo) Georgia Governor Brian Kemp (third from left) delivers a speech during his visit to SKBA on April 19th / (Right photo) From left: CEO of SK Innovation Kim Jun, Georgia Governor Brian Kemp, Georgia Department of Economic Development Commissioner Pat Wilson and President of SK Innovation’s Battery Business Jee Dong-seob hold battery cells produced at SKBA’s plant on April 19th
In addition to the direct investment that is worth about KRW 3 trillion, the effects of SK’s business on the growth of American EV industry, job creation, and regional economic development could be conveyed to more people in the U.S. through their voices. In a situation where we had to build a completely new media network in the States, thanks to the Georgia State PR team and Jackson County Area Chamber of Commerce, we were able to deliver many messages from our early days in the States through planning and promoting PR items jointly with them.
| From a newbie to an insider in Commerce, Georgia, positioning ourselves as a representative K-battery maker
To reach the goal of being a “Georgia Insider”, “Commerce Insider,” in addition to battery manufacturing business, SKBA has been participating in various CSR activities locally since establishment. We have operate mid-and long-term donation programs to local educational institutions to foster local talents. In May last year, we also donated to Augusta University in Georgia support the expenses related to physicians and the virtual telehealth COVID-19 screening. To battle against the pandemic, we are also steadily donating quarantine items such as masks to local fire stations, police stations, hospitals, medical centers.
▲ SK Battery America’s representatives deliver the masks at Habersham Medical Center on August 24th (Georgia local time). Bo Hatchett, a Senator of Georgia State (fourth from left) and Tyler Williams, CEO of Habersham Medical Center (fifth from left) attend the event.
I was one of the SKBA members who went to deliver the masks to the receivers. Carrying the boxes of masks in the back seat of our car, heading out to reach different locations in Georgia, I felt a sense of pride. In American society, regardless of the size of the donation, the act itself always receives heartfelt thanks from the beneficiaries. I believe our sincerity can contribute to the company and local community’s mutual growth.
The state and Jackson County are of course our reliable partners even in CSR activities. They join our funding through Matching Grant program, helping us increase the size of the donations, and actively utilized their network available to share news regarding our activities.
The visit of Korean President to SKBA is also very memorable. The preparation process was beyond imagination. I was engaged in the whole event, from the preparation to the follow up task after the event. It was a short but meaningful event to show SKBA’s current and future vision to not only the top leaders of Korea and Georgia, the U.S. but also to the whole world. The event was successfully ended thanks to the joint efforts of Korean and American staff.
▲ Kim Jeong-hoon (left) on his way to prepare for the Korean President’s SKBA visiting event in May 2021
From a viewpoint of publicity, it was not as easy as it looked to decorate the venue and set up the site according to everyone’s needs in an unfamiliar environment. Moreover, due to the logistics disruption caused by the hacking of an American oil pipeline at that time, it was hard to procure the necessary equipment and furniture for the event. In fact, the preparations for the venue had not been completed even on the rehearsal say, so there were voices of concern. We, the staff who prepared for the event, told ourselves, “There are the ones who have made many successes, so we can do it this time, too.” When everything ended, those who had showed their concerns about the event came to us and said, “You guys did a really good job. It was a tight schedule, but thanks to you, everything went well.”
Currently, SKBA is running test operation to get ready for the commercial production of the first plant. I am not an engineer, but I was able to experience and learn a lot by observing all the preparation processes in the field over the past year while performing my own duties.
In particular, the overseas dispatch work I experienced for the first time was an environment in which expatriates have to work in VWBE (Voluntarily Willingly Brain Engagement) and macro perspective. There are many times when it were urgent situations but it is impossible to seek advice from seniors at the headquarters due to the big time difference between Korea and the States. One or two expatriates from each functional organization must deal with their roles from A to Z in a self-contained way. It became a valuable opportunity to grow both quantitatively and qualitatively in each task, such as expanding the work scope and strengthening expertise in individual areas.
Unlike my tasks in Korea, SKBA accumulated various experiences and built related competencies, starting with brand-related work, advertising, events, and even internal/external communication work. Looking back at my one year at SKBA, I believe it was a precious experience that became a great help to my career. I want to express my gratitude to the President of SKBA president and all of my colleagues who encouraged and helped me a lot in the field that I had been unfamiliar.