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WEDNESDAY, JANUARY 25, 2006
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EDITORIAL

Kia Motors is shopping for city willing to pay most

Santa Claus is coming to town, and a Kia Motors' assembly plant won't be far behind. Absolutely, definitely and maybe. It's definitely coming to Meridian, Miss. Or maybe to South Carolina or Arkansas or Florida or Georgia. Maybe Decatur or Montgomery or any of a half dozen other Alabama towns. We don't know when or where, but here it comes.

If Kia was looking for the best geographical region, it would have chosen the Decatur area or Montgomery long ago.

Why Decatur? Because it has excellent river access, a well-developed rail system connecting it to West Coast ports and is close to the dozens of auto suppliers that are servicing its sister company, Hyundai Motors.

Why Montgomery? Because adequate land exists at the Hyundai plant, and because Hyundai's supplier routes are already established.

So why didn't Kia just pick Decatur or Montgomery and get on with the show? Because it is busy trying to trigger a bidding war between the states and cities it may one day bless.

The most transparent effort involved Meridian, Miss. A Kia plant in Meridian looked like a done deal. The Mississippi governor, eyes aglitter, all but declared Korean as Mississippi's new language. Suddenly, though, Kia danced the backwards two-step. After a year of increasingly definite discussions with the city and state, Kia suddenly realized Meridian's population was too small to support its workforce requirements. Really.

So how is it that Kia officials forgot to check Meridian's population in all those months of high-priced negotiations and analyses? The answer is Kia officials did not forget. They are dangling a carrot to see what community will jump highest — that is, pay the most — to get it. It is a delectable carrot to be sure but, like everything else, it has a price tag. Kia has been jiggling that carrot around long enough that it is a fair bet the incentive packages cities and states are offering are not as big as it wants.

We'd sure love that carrot to root here, but let's not sell the farm to buy the crop.

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