As expected, Toyota officially announced its plans to build the Highlander in northeast Mississippi. The company will invest $1.8 billion in the project and initially employ 2,000 workers. Toyota officials, along with Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour (speaking in photo), made the announcement this morning at a press conference in Tupelo, Miss.
"We in Mississippi and especially north Mississippi are excited to have been chosen by Toyota as its partner," Barbour said at the conference. "Toyota is the world's premiere auto manufacturer and our state will be the best partner the company has."
Plans are for the plant to be up and running by 2009, producing as many as 150,000 gasoline-powered 2010 model Highlanders a year. Hybrid Highlander production will remain in Japan. With an incentive package somewhat smaller than the state offered Nissan in 2003, Toyota will acquire the entire 1,500 acre site that straddles three counties.
[Sources: The Clarion-Ledger, The Commercial Appeal, Sean P. Thompson]
The Clarion-Ledger newspaper quotes Mike Randle of Southern Business and Development as saying Toyota chose the Mississippi site over Arkansas and Tennessee partly because of an agreement between Barbour and Alabama Gov. Bob Riley. Randle said Barbour agreed to support a steel mill locating in Alabama if Mississippi got Toyota. With Toyota's engine plant only a few hours east near Huntsville, Ala., it seems a win-win-win situation for all involved.
Toyota says it will donate $50 million to public schools in Pontotoc, Union and Lee counties, where the site is located. The ten $5 million checks sould help ensure a well-trained workforce and give Toyota a positive image in the communities. The University of Mississippi, 45 miles west of the site, also said it will begin an automotive engineering program to coincide with the building of the plant, further improving the pool of workers from which Toyota can pull.
Toyota To Build Highlanders in Mississippi - New Plant to Start Production by 2010; To Employ 2,000 Team Members
February 27, 2007 - TUPELO, Mississippi - Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour joined Toyota (NYSE: TM) officials today to announce that the company has chosen a 1,700-acre site in Blue Springs, Mississippi to build its eighth North American vehicle assembly plant.
The new plant, to be located just outside of Tupelo, will have the capacity to build 150,000 vehicles annually of Toyota's popular Highlander sport utility vehicle. Production is scheduled to begin by 2010.
The new plant represents a $1.3 billion investment by Toyota and is expected to create approximately 2,000 new jobs for the region and indirectly create work for many more. Operations at the plant will include stamping, body weld, plastics, paint, and assembly.
Governor Barbour, speaking at a news conference held in Tupelo, welcomed Toyota's decision to set up operations in Mississippi.
"We in Mississippi and especially North Mississippi are excited to have been chosen by Toyota as its partner," said Governor Barbour. "Toyota is the world's premiere auto manufacturer and our state will be the best partner the company has."
Toyota manufacturing Executive Vice Presidents, Gary Convis and Ray Tanguay, joined Governor Barbour at the announcement to help deliver the good news to local citizens.
Convis addressed Toyota's challenge in balancing rapid growth while maintaining the company's superior quality standards, noting the recent start up of Tundra production in San Antonio and upcoming launch of Camry production at the Subaru plant in Lafayette, Indiana.
"We are excited for the opportunity to do business in Mississippi and are confident the team members here will have a commitment to perform at the highest possible level," he said. "Governor Barbour and the regional economic development team were very convincing and unrelenting in their efforts to showcase the area's advantages," Convis said, while acknowledging that competition among several states for the new plant was tough.
Tanguay also pointed out several factors that led to Toyota's site selection decision.
"On my visits to Northern Mississippi, I have talked with area companies and observed their workforce," said Tanguay. "What I observed were people who are educated, ethical and friendly with a strong work ethic – a perfect match for the Toyota Way." He added that the area's existing companies had high praise for the workforce. "They were definitely the best sales people."
Convis and Tanguay both recognized the contributions of the team who worked on bringing Toyota's fifth vehicle assembly plant to the U.S., citing the team effort put forth by state and local officials and the private sector.
"The partnership of all of these groups was instrumental to our decision, including the creation of a new rail district to provide competitive rail access for the plant," said Tanguay.
"We're honored that Toyota has chosen to invest in our state and grow with Mississippians," said Trent Lott, Senator of Mississippi. "This is a partnership between one of the world's best companies, and a state which has already proven itself capable of attracting the world's top defense, automotive and aerospace jobs."
Mississippi Senator Thad Cochran and Congressman Roger Wicker also participated in the announcement.
Site preparation and construction for the plant is scheduled to begin later this spring. A majority of the hiring will take place closer to the start of vehicle production.
Outline of Toyota MississippiLocation Blue Springs, Mississippi (outside of Tupelo)
Plant overview Vehicle production (stamping, body weld, plastics, paint and assembly)
Product Toyota Highlander
Production capacity 150,000 units/year
Site area 1,700 acres
Investment $1.3 billion
Start of production By 2010