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Williamson County partners with South Korea in first-of-its-kind economic agreement

Jessie Curneal
Williamson County Judge Bill Gravell gives KOTRA CEO Yu Jeong-Yeol a cowboy hat at the grand opening of the KOTRA Global Partnering Center in Austin on Thursday.

Williamson County Judge Bill Gravell signed the county’s first-ever international economic mutual cooperation agreement with the Korea-Trade Investment Promotion Agency on Thursday.

The history-making deal was signed at the South Korea trade agency's new Global Partnering Center in downtown Austin. It is expected to bring dozens — if not hundreds — of new companies to the area.

"We’re humbled," Gravell told KUT. "Normally, their agreements are with states or nations, and so we’re honored to have that partnership with KOTRA."

He said details of the agreement were hashed out during a trip to South Korea last week.

The trip was initially scheduled so Gravell and other county officials could visit Samsung’s fabrication plant in Pyeongtaek City. The tech giant is building a similar $17 billion chip-making plant in Taylor.

But it was expanded to include meetings with representatives of KOTRA.

"I didn’t know before last week that I was willing to do an international agreement. I never thought about it," Gravell said. "And I’m now asking myself, ‘Why not?’”

Williamson County Judge, Bill Gravell poses with Yu Jeong-Yeol, CEO of KOTRA after signing a mutual cooperation agreement
Jessie Curneal
Gravell poses Jeong-Yeol after signing a mutual cooperation agreement.

Under the agreement, Williamson County will provide South Korean companies information to help them do business in the county, such as details about the business environment and policies, as well as legal and tax regulations.

"The cultural differences — it’s very difficult for them to understand the process of coming to the U.S. [and] coming to Texas," Dave Porter, director of Williamson County's Economic Development Partnership, said. "So we made it a lot easier for them by introducing ourselves."

Porter said the partnership is especially important as Samsung nears the completion of its chip-making factory in Taylor.

The factory will rely on small- and medium-sized companies nearby to supply raw materials. And many of those companies will be coming from South Korea.

"The key now is for us to sell 'em on Williamson County," Porter said.

It’s a sales pitch that the director general of KOTRA's Dallas office said he’s already been making.

"There are several Korean companies invested in Texas already working together with Samsung," Jonghyun Kim said at the signing ceremony Thursday. "And we have been contacted by many other small and medium companies in Korea regarding investing in Texas due to [the] relocation of global companies like Tesla."

A South Korean and a U.S. flag crossing at the poles
Jessie Curneal
Under the deal with KOTRA, Williamson County will provide guidance to South Korean companies interested in operating in the county.

Kim also credited major federal policies such as the CHIPS and Science Act and the Inflation Reduction Act for this interest. The CHIPS Act, in particular, promotes the domestic production of semiconductors — like those that will be made at the factory in Taylor.

Gravell said Williamson County will not receive any funds or incentives from the CHIPS Act as part of the agreement. But, he’s grateful for the policy and the role it is playing in the industrialization of the county.

"What it’s going to afford us to do, is the ability to on-board semiconductor manufacturing here in America," he said. "For many years, we’ve abdicated that responsibility to foreign nations, but through the federal CHIPS Act, we’re going to be able to manufacture it local and it’s going to say, 'Made in Taylor, Texas.'"

The current terms of the deal will continue for at least two years.

Kailey Hunt is KUT's Williamson County reporter. Got a tip? Email her at Follow her on Twitter @KaileyEHunt.
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