Thursday, June 24, 2010
Toyota’s big news
By SUE WATSON
Local and state leaders celebrated Thursday with their newest business partner, Toyota Mississippi, whose announcement from its Blue Springs assembly plant caught many by surprise.
Toyota will build the world’s best-selling car - the Corolla - at Blue Springs and expects to be ready by fall of 2011. The site is located on Highway 78 (future Interstate 22), just 31 miles east of the Marshall County line.
The announcement brought smiles to Marshall County officials, particularly Bill Mobley, executive director of the Industrial Development Authority. He told supervisors Monday that Toyota’s timing of its announcement fits well with the Marshall/Benton WIN Job Center opening next month, which will take applications for employment with Toyota and its tier suppliers.
“I feel this is going to be a wonderful opportunity for people of Marshall County to be employed with Toyota or one of its tier suppliers,” said Mobley, adding that IDA has been showing some sites to tier suppliers in recent months.
By now the Toyota plant was scheduled to be ready to assemble the Toyota Highlander SUV, but a global economic disaster slowed down the clock on Toyota’s schedule and changed its plans. Toyota subsequently announced in July 2008 it would manufacture its hybrid Prius but later that year the company said it was delaying opening indefinitely. But when the time came to make a decision on what the company believes is a sure thing, Toyota chose the world’s best-selling car and a very durable, safe and award-winning vehicle to go into its Blue Springs assembly plant.
An elated Gov. Haley Barbour said he got an early morning call Thursday from Akio Toyoda of Japan, saying the plant would open next year when it expects to hire up to 2,000 employees and operate two shifts.
“He said, ‘I want you to know Toyota Mississippi will manufacture the Toyota Corolla - the best-selling automobile in the world,’ ” Barbour said.
He said the public should hear an announcement on hiring in a few weeks.
As Toyota Mississippi gets ready to start production next fall, its suppliers will get ready for production also. That means jobs, jobs, jobs for Mississippians.
“They (suppliers) will employ as many as the main plant will,” Barbour said. “It is an enormous thing for Blue Springs and the PUL (Pontotoc, Union, Lee) Alliance and for communities all across Mississippi.”
Borrowing from Toyota’s team approach, Barbour said job creation and economic development is a team sport.
“We’ve got a team just as good as we had in 2007 when Toyota announced the most sought-after project that year (would be coming to Mississippi),” the governor said. “We were disappointed when we were told Toyota would delay opening the plant, but it was a good business decision and we understand. We expect Toyota to be here 50 to 75 years. They said we would have a delay but ‘we will keep our word to you.’ They have stayed on schedule on keeping their promises for financial support of our communities.”
Barbour said Toyota is the premier automobile manufacturer in the world from the standpoint of its production system and that other manufacturers have adopted Toyota’s system.
While most automobile manufacturers have experienced worker cutbacks of up to 36 percent since 2006, Barbour said Toyota has not had to trim back employees.
“It’s a great day for everybody in Mississippi,” he said. “Be proud!”
U.S. Congressman Travis Childers said, “This is absolutely a red-letter day for Mississippi and the three counties that make up the PUL Alliance. You mentioned earlier, Governor, this is a partnership. We are proud to be your partners with three-quarters of a million people in this district.”
Working hard is one thing people in Mississippi do well, he said, and told Toyota, “These people are going to work hard for you. You said, Governor Barbour, ‘Mississippi is open for business.’ Make no mistake. Mississippi is open for business.”
Yoshimi Inaba, president and chief operating officer for Toyota Motors North America, explained some of the struggles and delays Toyota has been through these nearly four years since it originally announced it would come to Mississippi.
“Thank you, Governor Barbour, for your remarks, your understanding and your patience,” he said. “Governor Barbour stood behind us. I thank all of you for understanding our challenge. No one could anticipate the downturn in the economy. Before doing this, we had to make sure all our existing facilities were stable.
“It’s time to make good on Toyota’s promise to Mississippi. It is indeed a great day for Mississippi and Toyota. By starting the production with Corolla, we are able to get Toyota Mississippi off to a much faster start. Mississippi team members will be producing the most popular car in the industry. Corolla is one of the best-selling cars of all times.”
The Corolla is sold in over 100 countries and one Corolla is sold every 40 seconds, Inaba said. Over 8.5 million Corollas have been sold in the United States and sales were up 18 percent last year. Most Corollas built since 1989 are still on the road, he said.
“It really is an amazing vehicle - unmatched for value,” Inaba said. “Who better than the people of Mississippi who share similar qualities of strength, stability and reliability ( to build the Corolla). Toyota Mississippi will enjoy a bright and stable future.”
Looking out over the more than 900 guests and dignitaries attending the press conference, Steve St. Angelo, executive vice-president for Toyota Engineering and Manufacturing North America and chief quality officer as well as president of the Kentucky and Mississippi plants, said it felt like graduation day.
“It’s a day of completion, a day of pride,” he said. “Graduation day ends a chapter in your book. What will happen tomorrow? Toyota will be hiring new team members who will shop at your stores, eat at your restaurants, purchase new houses, pay much needed taxes.”
St. Angelo said Toyota builds a new vehicle as it is needed and builds quality into the process the “Toyota way.”
Those qualities include accepting a challenge, respect for people, always improving the product and teamwork.
“Thank you, the good people of Mississippi, for your patience, our suppliers for their flexibility, and the good governor and elected officials,” St. Angelo said. “You have a great lineup. Finally, I thank our customers for their continued loyalty to our product. On behalf of the Toyota family, worldwide, we will not let you down. God bless Mississippi and may the best car win!”
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