Originally created 10/17/98

Grant will go to first new tenant



Local officials decided federal grant money earmarked for Hankook Synthetics' proposed polyester plant at the Augusta Corporate Park will be given to the first large company that agrees to locate there.

The request, made by Metro Augusta Chamber of Commerce President Jim West and approved Thursday by the Savannah River Regional Diversification Initiative, further indicates that it may be a long time before the cash-strapped South Korean company breaks ground on its $1.2 billion facility.

Under the original grant proposal, Hankook would have received the $3.2 million grant -- which is essentially an incentive package funding a training facility and railroad extension -- for its commitment to locate in the industrial park.

Now, any major industry moving into the vacant park will be eligible for the U.S. Department of Energy grant program administered by SRRDI.

"With Hankook in a delay mode, we didn't want to miss the opportunity of those funds," Mr. West said. "We asked SRRDI to make those funds available on a first-come basis."

As for the timing of the vote, Mr. West said he wanted to make the grant money open-ended as soon as possible to help entice other prospective industry to Augusta. However, he declined to comment on whether economic development officials are currently courting a company.

The recent Asian economic crisis and weak worldwide polyester market conditions are blamed for Hankook's inability to start construction. The project has been in limbo since its ground breaking was first delayed in January.

The company has yet to sign a contract for pre-construction engineering, and the company is working with an industry consultant to form a strategic partnership with a non-Asian polyester producer that can lend financial backing and creditworthiness to the project, local Hankook spokesman, Eugene Chin Yu has said.

Two messages left on Mr. Yu's voice mail Friday were not returned by late evening.

Aiken-based SRRDI was created in 1993 by the DOE to fund economic diversification in the five-county area to offset downsizing at the Savannah River Site.

The organization claims to have created or retained approximately 2,000 local jobs at an average cost of $2,939 per job based on its $5.8 million investment into 36 projects since its inception.

Damon Cline covers business issues for The Augusta Chronicle. He can be reached at (706) 823-3486 or dcline@augustabusiness.com.