OEK President Colby Kirk Visits South Korea’s InterBattery Conference

8 Apr 2024

One East Kentucky President Colby Kirk recently returned from a trip across the world to represent Kentucky at the InterBattery conference in Seoul, South Korea. The international conference is Korea’s leading battery exhibition, showcasing cutting-edge technology and products relevant to the battery industry.

The Southern Economic Development Council invited their membership to apply to be part of a delegation to attend the exclusive conference. Spots fill up quickly for this international event, so Kirk jumped at the chance to represent his home state. As the largest battery tradeshow in the world, InterBattery Seoul is a crucial place for government representatives and economic development professionals to network and make connections that can propel their communities into the future. The conference has a wide array of exhibitors on display, including products from the electric vehicle sector, batteries for consumer electronics, and even upstream suppliers for the battery industry. Since the announcement of the Blue Oval SK battery manufacturing plant in Hardin County, KY, the electric vehicle industry in Kentucky has grown tremendously. Kirk’s hopes in attending such a high-profile conference were to learn more about the industry and to have an opportunity to meet with other potential suppliers.

Along with 12 other government representatives from the South, Kirk attended the conference to stay current with the increasing presence of Korean battery investments in the United States. Part of his goal in attendance was to give Kentucky a competitive edge in the battery industry.  At the moment, countries around the world have mandates to phase out internal combustion engines in this century and replace them with electric vehicles. Because electric vehicles will be part of the near future, the states that win the projects supporting the battery industry will see long-term success. “I think we have a compelling opportunity to support the battery industry in East Kentucky,” said Kirk. “We have skilled electricians in our region and training programs to support manufacturers who need a workforce with these skill sets. We also have available industrial sites and buildings ready for development and a prime location within a day’s drive of 12 major Korean-owned battery manufacturing facilities.”

Kirk’s prior experience as an exchange student at Korea University in Seoul prepared him to make the most of the trip. While in college, he spent a semester studying International Business, learning about Korean culture and business practices. Beyond the tradeshow, Kirk held meetings with officials from the U.S. Department of Commerce at the U.S. Embassy and met with the American Chamber of Commerce in Korea. These connections will be a vital part of assisting any future battery projects wishing to locate in the U.S.

When reflecting on what he hopes to apply in Eastern Kentucky, Kirk mentioned that he came away with several observations about the trucking industry. Kirk was able to observe a full-sized electric semi-truck that had its fuel tanks and diesel engine replaced with battery packs and an electric motor. While the technology isn’t advanced enough to replace long-distance trucking across the U.S., it has the potential to be used for short-distance deliveries. “I can only imagine what this technology will make possible in 10 years’ time,” he remarked.

Kirk’s extensive South Korea trip demonstrated not just his willingness to stay relevant, but to look toward the future of Kentucky’s success. Through the connections he made on the trip and the rapport he worked hard to establish, he hopes to position East Kentucky as an investment opportunity for the battery industry.