OAKLAND — A government official of the Republic of Korea, which has established industries in the Boston area, traveled to central Maine this week to scout out the region and discuss future possibilities for its businesses to expand into the area.

Yonghyon Kim, consul general for the Republic of Korea in Boston, was in Oakland and Waterville on Monday and Tuesday visiting with local business leaders, including Jim Dinkle, executive director of FirstPark Business Park, and Garvan Donegan, senior economic development specialist for the Central Maine Growth Council.

Yonghyon Kim, consul general of the Republic of Korea, visits FirstPark in Oakland this week to discuss potential plans to grow and collaborate with U.S. businesses. Morning Sentinel photo by Rich Abrahamson Buy this Photo

FirstPark currently has 16 lots totaling 225 acres of available land for development in Oakland, according to Dinkle.

While no formal plans were made during the visit, and the possibility of a Korean company setting up shop in the Waterville area is still a ways away, Yonghyon said the trip to Maine helped familiarize him with the area and its potential.

“I define my job as connecting people,” said Yonghyon, who assumed his current title in December 2017 after nearly 30 years in other diplomatic roles. “To do my job, I need to know about the people.”

The consul general, who oversees the New England region for the Korean consulate, said that many Koreans know Maine for Acadia National Park and its lobster, which is becoming increasingly popular, especially in the country’s high-end restaurants. The East Asian nation is Maine’s sixth largest export market. Last year, Maine sent $67 million in goods there, according to Yonghyon. The Pine Tree State, conversely, imported $19 million from South Korea last year.

Still, Boston is better known overseas because of its cultural icons such as the Red Sox and the Boston Symphony Orchestra, and its educational institutions, which include Harvard and MIT, Yonghyon said. Four South Korean pharmaceutical companies have opened offices in the Massachusetts city, including GC Pharma, Samyang Biopharmaceuticals, LG Chemicals and Yuhan Pharmaceuticals, according to Yonghyon. Hyundai Motor Group, the South Korean car maker, and Aptiv, an Irish technology company, will headquarter their $4 billion joint venture to build a self-driving car in Boston as well, Bloomberg reported in September.

“To be frank, we do not know so much about Maine,” Yonghyon said, adding, “I’d like to promote Maine to Koreans.”

The South Korean government announced a plan in April to grow its bio-health, next-generation car and non-memory chip industries, according to Yonghyon and South Korea’s Yonhap News Agency. Non-memory chips are any computer chip that does not store data, like a processing chip. Robotics, artificial intelligence, technology and renewable energy are other industries that could expand into New England, according to Yonghyon. He added that he would also like to see cultural exchanges grow, particularly with Maine’s colleges and universities.

Yonghyon Kim, consul general of the Republic of Korea, center, fields questions from the media Tuesday while sitting with FirstPark executive director Jim Dinkle, left, and Garvan Donegan, of the Central Maine Growth Council, at FirstPark in Oakland. Morning sentinel photo by Rich Abrahamson Buy this Photo

Access to skilled labor, via college graduates from Colby College, Thomas College, Kennebec Valley Community College and others, make the Waterville area enticing to companies looking for a place to expand operations. Dinkle noted that the area’s nearby deep water ports, inter-modal system, high-speed internet and proximity to Boston are also appealing. Logan International Airport offers a direct flight to Seoul. Plus, Dinkle said, taxes are lower in Maine than in Massachusetts.

“We have the infrastructure to host South Korean businesses and are a lower cost alternative to Boston, but three hours away,” Dinkle said. “It meets the cliché of: ‘It’s cheaper to do business in the country than the city.'”

FirstPark is a designated Foreign Trade Zone, meaning that goods can be exported from the site free from duty and excise tax, according to the U.S. Customs and Border Protection website.

Central Maine is already host to a handful of international businesses, including Finland-based Huhtamaki, which makes paper products in Waterville; German telecommunications subsidiary T-Mobile, which has a call center in Oakland’s FirstPark; Canadian information technology consulting group CGI Inc., which has an office in Waterville. Others that are Portland-based dip into the central Maine economy, such as German solar company hep energy, which is building large solar projects in Waterville and Fairfield; and Icelandic shipping company Eimskip.

“We’ve cultivated these relationships before, creating conditions for growth to occur,” Donegan said.

Dinkle added that Yonghyon’s visit was “a step forward.”

Yonghyon said he would like to incorporate Maine businesses in more networking events with the South Korean community in Boston and work to arrange a delegation to travel to East Asia. The last time a Maine delegation traveled to South Korea was in 2012, he said. Arranging opportunities like this, sending reports about his trips to Maine back to South Korea and posting on social media will help make Maine more visible abroad.

“It’s very important to know each other,” Yonghyon said.

The consul general’s trip this week included tours of T-Mobile Technical Center in Oakland, F3 Manufacturing in Waterville, and Bricks Coworking and Innovation in Waterville as well as a visit to Colby College and a local business luncheon in Waterville.

Comments are not available on this story.

filed under: