Yoonie Kim grew up in South Korea, where her parents drove a Hyundai car while she attended a high school bearing the Hyundai name. Years later, she would help convince the automaker to build its electric vehicle plant in Georgia in the state’s biggest economic development victory.
In between, she moved to Georgia as part of an international internship for her master’s degree from Hanyang University in Seoul. And then she went on to use what she learned to bring to her adopted state other major Korean companies, including SK Group and SK Battery, LG Hausys and Samsung LED before working on the Hyundai plant deal.
One key to her success: those who know her say she has a special ability to build relationships. For her part, Kim said professionals working to woo new companies to their city or state must be aware of what’s happening in the global economy and how international events might affect the United States. They also should be prepared to be resilient and flexible because most times the pursuits won’t play out as economic developers had hoped or planned, she said.
These skills culminated in Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp giving Kim a shout-out in his 2023 State of the State address last month for luring companies and jobs to the state.
“Yoonie Kim serves as director of Korean investment, and she’s been instrumental in bringing literally billions of dollars and thousands of jobs to Georgia communities,” Kemp said during his speech. Specifically, the state credits Kim with landing 130 foreign direct investment projects that have created 22,600 jobs and $11.7 billion in capital investment in the state.
The recognition, Kim said, was one of the highlights of her career. “Someone mentioned that it is a pinnacle of all the work I have done, and it sure was,” she said in an interview.
Since 2019, Kim has led an effort that resulted in more than 20 new economic development wins in the state. But her biggest moment came in May when Hyundai officially selected a large swath of land in Bryan County, near Savannah, for its new $5.5 billion Metaplant America.
“As I was growing up in Korea, Hyundai group touched almost all aspects of my daily youth life. I was living in a high-rise condo that Hyundai group constructed, we shopped at the Hyundai department store,” Kim said in a LinkedIn post. “I was dreaming of being a musical actress since I got the inspiration from the Hyundai theater where I saw my first musical at age 8 (apparently it didn’t work out 😂). Today, we located Hyundai motor company in the State of Georgia, I feel like my mission is completed and made a full circle.”
Fluent in Korean, English and Japanese, Kim was working at Google evaluating the quality of Korean language searches in 2006 when she applied for a position as a Korean and English bilingual project manager with Georgia’s Department of Economic Development, or GDEcD. She’s been there ever since and has leveraged her knowledge of Korean business, culture and her background in international relations to help Georgia attract several companies from the country where she was raised.
“I absolutely didn’t have any idea when I was growing up in Korea that I would help bring Hyundai to Georgia. I actually didn’t know what economic development could do until I joined the department,” Kim said with a laugh.
Korea’s Growing Presence
Her professionalism and relationship-building ability are the keys to Kim’s professional success, said James Pitts, owner of national real estate brokerage Greenwood CRE.
Pitts has worked with Kim on several deals with Korean companies, including SK Battery’s sublease of two floors at Stonebridge I in Sanctuary Park in Alpharetta, Georgia.
“In the 10+ years we have worked together, I think Yoonie deserves much of the credit for increasing Georgia’s attractiveness to Korean companies by showcasing our state’s many attributes and strategically building a vibrant ecosystem of Korean companies that is only growing stronger with each new win,” Pitts said in a text message.
That ecosystem’s expansion is accelerating as Korean auto parts suppliers announce new operations to support Hyundai’s Metaplant America in southeast Georgia. In 2021, Georgia’s total trade volume with South Korea jumped 22.5% to $9.69 billion, according to GDEcD. The decision by Kia, part of Hyundai Motor, to open its first North American assembly plant in Georgia in 2009 put the state on the map among South Korean companies.
Kim said the presence of several large South Korean companies in Georgia has created opportunities to attract other corporations from her native country.
“Atlanta has the third-biggest Korean-American population in the nation, and I can imagine it will grow more and more as Korean companies continue to locate in Georgia,” she said. “Georgia’s strong relationships with Korean executives also spreads our reputation as a great place to do business by word of mouth.”
Bridge Between Countries
She often leads Georgia delegations on trips to South Korea to meet with top executives from the East Asian country’s largest conglomerates. “It feels good to be able to serve as a bridge between my two homes, whether by accompanying our teams to Korea or by helping welcome Korean leadership to Georgia,” Kim said.
As a result, “Tens of thousands of Georgians have better-paying jobs because of the hard work and tireless efforts of Yoonie,” Georgia Department of Economic Development Commissioner Pat Wilson said in an email.
Her relatives in Korea lend Kim a hand by keeping her up to date on the latest business trends in Seoul and the rest of South Korea. “As I have been doing this almost 17 years now, my family and friends almost act like reporters,” Kim said. “They monitor news broadcasts and articles, and they share what’s happening in Korea and what they see with me.”
When she’s not traveling to South Korea or meeting with business executives in Georgia, Kim enjoys playing piano or cello and listening in as her two daughters learn violin and piano. She also likes K-pop, and saw Blackpink perform at State Farm Arena in the Atlanta area in November.
That part of her life spills into business as well.
“I recently had a meeting with Atlanta Symphony Orchestra to discuss how we can work together to invite Korean musicians, introduce Korean companies and engage with the local music culture platform,” she said.
Looking ahead, Kim already knows what her next car will be.
“I am planning to buy one of the first models made at the new Hyundai plant, and I am excited for Georgia-made EVs to hit the road in 2025,” she said.
Source : CoStar