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Mississippi in the running for new auto plant
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Aug 09, 2017

As Toyota and Mazda search for a site to build a joint-venture, $1.6 billion plant in the U.S., Mississippi is expected to be in the hunt, since it already makes Corollas at the Blue Springs Toyota plant. "We stand ready to grow our existing partnership and strengthen Mississippi's standing as a global leader in automotive manufacturing," Gov. Phil Bryant said in a statement on Tuesday. But competition is expected to be fierce, particularly among Southeastern states with existing automobile plants and related suppliers. "Typically, you don't even publicly hear about a project until it's down to the last one or two sites," said Mississippi Economic Council President Scott Waller. "This one sounds like they are saying, 'We're coming. What are you going to do for us?'" Waller and Jay Moon, president of the Mississippi Manufacturers Association, said they know few details about plans for the plant beyond media reports. But both said Mississippi has already proven itself capable of success in the automotive manufacturing industry with its Nissan and Toyota plants. Both Moon and Waller said workforce training and capacity would likely be a big consideration for a new plant. "I think we've got the capacity, depending on location, to work with any company that wants to locate in the state," Moon said. "We have shown we can ramp up training and that we have the capability, and the relationship between our community colleges and senior universities is excellent. We have demonstrated not only with cars, but other advanced manufacturing that our workforce is second-to-none." Waller said that in recent years workforce has surpassed government incentives as the No. 1 issue of site selectors. But incentives are also likely to come into play amid states competing for such a plant. State and local governments have provided about $363 million in incentives for Mississippi's Nissan plant and $296 million for Toyota. Toyota officials said the company plans to assemble Corollas at the new U.S. plant, and Mazda plans to make new "crossover" models, according to Automotive News. Mazda and Toyota recently announced a deal for their companies to acquire stakes in each other. Plans are for the Toyota-Mazda plant to be operating in 2021 and for it to create 4,000 jobs. The plant is not expected to sap production from existing Toyota plants, but to allow expansion of production of the popular Tacoma pickup elsewhere. President Trump earlier this year criticized Toyota for its plans for a new plant in Mexico. Company officials had intended to build Corollas at the plant in Mexico. At a joint Friday news conference in Tokyo to announce the new U.S. plant, Toyota's president said competitiveness and efficiency, and the fact Corollas are already being built in Mississippi, are driving the plans for a U.S. plant, not Trump's criticism. Trump praised the new plans for a U.S. plant as "a great investment in American manufacturing." Bloomberg this week reported that Mississippi would appear to be a front-runner for the new plant because it already makes Corollas in Blue Springs at the Toyota plant that opened there in 2011. The state already has a "supply chain" for Toyota and also has a Nissan plant in Canton. But Alabama, Kentucky, Texas, Tennessee and other states are also expected to be in the running. Automotive News predicted the plant "is sure to set off a bidding war among states eager for the investment." Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin at an automotive industry association conference this week vowed that the Bluegrass state "will be on it like white on rice." Kentucky already has a Toyota plant that makes the Camry and Avalon. Alabama has a Toyota engine plant, in addition to Mercedes-Benz, Honda and Hyundai plants. Texas has a Toyota plant, and Tennessee is home to General Motors, Nissan and Volkswagen plants.

Contact Geoff Pender at 601-961-7266 or gpender@gannett.com. Follow him on Twitter.

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