The growth in Augusta's sizable Korean-American population is easily explained: They like the city as much as everyone else.
"I stayed in Augusta because I like the small-city feeling and it has a metropolitan feel," said Kim Klein, a real estate agent for Blanchard and Calhoun, who said she has had numerous opportunities to move to a larger market since residing here in the mid-1970s.
Yoon Cho and his wife, Hana, took over the Hakky Shoe Repair store in Augusta Mall after leaving New York City three years ago.
"Queens was much too crowded. Too expensive. Here, the air is clean, it's peaceful and there's less crime," Mrs. Cho said.
There are an estimated 5,000 residents of Korean descent in Augusta, where the influx historically has been attributed to the presence of Fort Gordon, where soldiers sometimes return married to South Koreans they met while stationed overseas.
"Then, (the women will) invite their relatives to stay, and it goes on from there," said Henry Kim, the manager of King's Spirits and Wines on Milledgeville Road.
In addition, an increasing number of Koreans, many of whom are business owners, appear to be locating in Augusta to take advantage of the city's mild climate, low cost of doing business and low crime rate.
Mr. Kim, for example, moved to Augusta from New York in 1992 to help a friend who relocated after his business was destroyed during the Los Angeles riots.
"I remember getting off the airplane at Bush Field. We had just left the snow, and I saw those azaleas and said, 'Man, this is nice.' " said Mr. Kim, 60.
His wife and young daughter pulled up stakes from Manhattan and became Georgians.
"I like it here because there's lots of golf courses and not much competition for tee times," he said with a smile.
According to the 2000 U.S. census, of 281.4 million Americans, the Korean population was just over 1 million. In 1940, more than a decade before the Korean War, there were just 8,568 Koreans in America.
Between 1990 and 2000, Georgia, Nevada and North Carolina saw the largest Korean population increases, according to the Census Bureau. California and New York have the largest number of Korean residents nationwide.
Most Koreans in Georgia live in the Atlanta metro area, which has the eighth-largest Korean population among U.S. metro areas. Gwinnett County has the 16th-largest Korean population among all U.S. counties.
The Chos had moved to New York after a 1998 recession in South Korea, "similar to what's happening here," Mr. Cho said; it rocked the Korean economy and ultimately sank his seafood business.
He later moved to Augusta after hearing raves about the community from his friends of more than 20 years.
"I love America because if you work hard, the opportunities are there," Mr. Cho said. "Even if you don't have a lot of education, you can make money here. We are all equal, but in my country you have a class system and you have to obey the rich."
Mrs. Cho, a former nurse, said she appreciates that "police protect women here," adding that domestic violence is a major problem in her native land and that American police are more responsive.
Another major issue is that "in Korea, you must pay for education, while here school is free," she said.
Younger generations of Korean-Americans often have the same complaints about Augusta as their fourth-and fifth-generation American counterparts.
"I love it here, but my only complaint would be that there's just not enough for younger people to do," said Liza Klein, Ms. Klein's daughter, who also works as a Realtor for Blanchard and Calhoun in Evans.
Like most Korean-Americans, Pyung Jun Park, the owner of a convenience store near Paine College at 15th Street and Central Avenue, has no plans to permanently return to his homeland.
"Augusta is now home," he said. "And I love it here."
Reach Timothy Cox at (706) 823-3217 or email@example.com.
The West leads, but the South narrowly trails the Northeast as the second-largest population of Korean-Americans.
Georgia was the state with the largest increase in Korean-Americans from 1990 to 2000:
|Ethnic group||% with at least a bachelor's degree|
|Asian / Indian||63.8|
MEDIAN HOUSEHOLD INCOME
|Asian / Indian||$68,100|
Source: 2000 U.S. Census