Jackson County leaders excited now that SK Battery future no longer in question

Jackson County Commission Chairman Tom Crow said he never doubted the two Korean EV battery rivals would settle before the deadline.

The chairman of the Jackson County Commission predicts big things for his community now that the SK Battery dispute is finally settled.

"There were a few people who were really concerned that the sky was going to fall," said Tom Crow. "I don’t really think we were in bad shape."

The 20-year veteran of the Jackson County Commission was correct. Over the weekend — within hours of a presidential deadline — SK resolved its trade secret dispute with rival electric vehicle battery manufacturer LG Energy Solutions.

"I really felt in my heart it was going to be settled," said Crow. "It was just determining how many zeroes on the settlement."

For those counting, there are nine zeroes.

Phase 1 of the SK Battery plant is 2.4 million square feet, the largest in Jackson County.

SK will pay LG $1.8 billion to settle claims it stole 22 trade secrets from LG, then tried to hide the evidence from the United States International Trade Commission.

SK is still one of the biggest economic announcements in Georgia history, along with $300 million in state and local tax incentives.

But just weeks after Governor Brian Kemp presided over the groundbreaking in 2019, the shine started to fade for people who live in the community.

"It seems to have less shine every day," said Joy Shafer of Commerce.

Labor leaders complained many of the basic construction jobs were going to overseas workers.

Neighbors woke up to find single-family homes occupied by multiple Korean men being shuttled back and forth to the plant.

US Customs and Border Protection arrested others trying to sneak into the country with false papers to work there.

SK insisted they hired plenty of Americans to help build the sprawling plant along I-85.

But in February, the USITC banned SK from using any of the suspect stolen technology for 10 years, in effect forcing the company to either settle with LG or shut down the plant.

Instead, SK appealed to Biden and threatened to pull out of Georgia if he didn’t side with them. But there were no serious signs of the company actually taking steps to do so.

"After that court ruling came out, SK did not slow down on their construction of either the first or second building," said Chairman Crow.

He pointed out SK last year also made its contractual payment in lieu of property taxes to Jackson County, a total of $1,676,559, an amount he expects will be even higher for 2021. That money also goes to the city of Commerce and the Commerce School system.

The plant is being built inside the Commerce city limits.

Commerce mayor Clark Hill said he was "elated" that SK and LG finally resolved their long-running dispute.

Commerce mayor Clark Hill III said in a statement "I am most excited that we can now move forward with this project that will provide thousands of great jobs in Commerce. SK has already been a generous corporate citizen in our community and I look forward to working with them as they expand their operations here."

When the settlement news broke over the weekend, SK thanked Senator Jon Ossoff for his help.

Ossoff said he helped break the impasse that led to a successful settlement the day before Biden’s deadline.

"So I met personally with the chief executives of both companies and my team and I were engaged multiple times with senior executives with these two companies, as well as senior Biden administration officials," Ossoff said.

The settlement also ensures the US has another domestic supplier for EV batteries, rather than being forced to rely on Chinese firms.

"Electric vehicles are the future," said Ossoff. "And now Georgia is positioned to be a leading producer of the technology that’s vital to the production of electric vehicles."

Expect batteries — and initially 1000 of a possible 2600 jobs — by the end of the year.

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