20111013 southkorea leemyungbak
South Korean President Lee Myung-bak (L) greets U.S. Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-OH) (R) before addressing a joint meeting of the U.S. Congress at the U.S. Capitol October 13, 2011 in Washington, D.C. - 

Jeremy Hobson: President Obama and South Korean President Lee Myung Bahk are heading to Detroit today. They'll be there touting the Korean free trade deal that Congress approved two days ago, which is aimed at opening up both countries to more competition from each other. But Michigan and the auto industry have traditionally been leery of foreign competition. So are they really ready to roll but the red carpet for President Lee?

Michigan Radio's Jennifer Guerra has more.

Jennifer Guerra: For a long time, American cars were king in Michigan.

Charley Ballard is an economics professor at Michigan State University. He recalls the story of a group of guys who bought a Toyota solely for the purposing of bashing the hell out of it with a baseball bat.

Charley Ballard: I think that left an impression, at least with the Japanese, that has lingered to this day -- an impression that would make them wary about investing in Michigan.

But things are different these days. The ongoing struggles of the Michigan economy and the state's auto industry have made Michiganders more open to foreign trade and investment. Automakers and auto workers support the new free trade agreement with South Korea because it will eventually end tariffs on American-made auto parts.

UAW president Bob King says the pact will create more jobs because more vehicles will be sold. But as far as Michigan being a friendly enough state for South Korea to want to set up a plant?

Bob King: Unfortunately, when companies come to America, they run to the South and try to remain non-union. So I don't think they'll come to Michigan.

Instead, he says, they'll probably go to Georgia and Alabama.

I'm Jennifer Guerra for Marketplace.