We covered it all day here at NEMS360.com and will have more tomorrow in the NEMS Daily Journal.
UPDATE: 6:15 p.m. -
From Daily Journal's Emily Le Coz, with contributions from Carlie Kollath and Dennis Seid:
BLUE SPRINGS – Many of the 1,700 team members employed by Toyota Motor Manufacturing Mississippi celebrated their new plant’s opening today with free lunch, live music and lots of praise.
“It’s a great company to work for,” said Alpha Jackson, a former Jackson resident who six months ago quit his job as a barber and moved to Tupelo for a Toyota job. “I took a chance, and it’s been great. The discipline, the principles that they teach – it’s helping me become a better person.”
Alpha was one of four team members who, along with Linda Corbin, Andy Franks and Tereda Hairston, rode in the first Mississippi-built Corolla.
The black Corolla, which was made Oct. 24, is the first of 550 vehicles the plant has made so far. It will sit in the plant’s lobby.
UPDATE: 6 p.m. -
From business editor Dennis Seid:
BLUE SPRINGS – For Toyota Motor Corp. President Akio Toyoda, the pomp and circumstance of Thursday’s line-off ceremony at Toyota Motor Manufacturing Mississippi was significant for several reasons.
The event, celebrating the first Mississippi-made Corolla, marked the official opening of Toyota’s 10th plant in the U.S., its 14th in North America.
It also fulfilled the Japanese automaker’s promise that it would reopen the plant as soon as possible after suspending operations nearly three years ago because of a struggling economy.
And Toyota Mississippi’s opening means production of the Corolla returns to the U.S. after a 19-month absence. The U.S. is Toyota’s largest market and the Corolla is the company’s second-best selling car here.
For those reasons and more, Toyoda had every reason to see the plant up and running with Corollas rolling of the line.
“Today is the right time” to open the plant, Toyoda said.
UPDATE: 2:37 p.m. -
Here's a quick look at the day from The Associated Press ...
BLUE SPRINGS, Miss. (AP) — Toyota celebrated the start of Corolla production at its newest U.S. auto plant Thursday after a lengthy delay that the car maker blamed on a weak economy.
The ceremony formally marked the start of production last month, almost five years after Toyota Motor Corp. announced in February 2007 that it would build a sprawling facility in Blue Springs, a tiny town in the sparsely populated hills of north Mississippi.
Toyota Motor Corp. president Akio Toyoda, on hand for the ceremony, blamed the setback on the economy but said the time was now right for production.
It is the 14th plant in North America for the Japanese company, which builds 12 models in North America, including the Camry, RAV4 and Tacoma pickup. Together, they account for nearly 70 percent of Toyota's U.S. sales.
Toyota first planned to build the Highlander SUV in Mississippi, then the gas-electric Prius before settling on Corollas. Production was originally planned for 2010.
Gov. Haley Barbour said he never lost confidence in Toyota and supported the company's decision to delay production.
Hundreds of plant workers erupted in cheers when the plant's first production car, a shiny black Corolla, was driven on stage in a highly choreographed event. It will go on display in the plant's lobby.
That first car was built Oct. 24, and since then about 550 more have rolled off the production line and been sent to dealerships on the Gulf Coast, said David Copenhaven, vice president of the new plant known as Toyota Motor Manufacturing, Mississippi.
Barbour said about 1,500 workers are currently employed at the plant,
The facility is expected to employ 2,000 people by next year and create hundreds of jobs for suppliers, at a time when unemployment in Mississippi hovers above 10 percent. Mississippi Department of Employment Security officials have said more than 41,000 people applied for jobs.at the plant, with applicants coming from all 82 Mississippi counties, 44 other states and Puerto Rico
Officials from three counties spent years working to lure a car manufacturer, watching as other Southern communities reaped the economic spoils of new plant openings. In the past decade, foreign carmakers that opened plants elsewhere have included Nissan in central Mississippi, Toyota in Texas, Kia in Georgia and Volkswagen in Tennessee.
Barbour went to Japan to court Toyota before the Blue Springs plant was announced in 2007, and state officials quickly signed off on a $324 million incentive package.
The Mississippi plant sits at the edge of Blue Springs, a town of 200 that's little more than a winding, hilly road lined with modest houses, a small post office and Gentry's Grocery & Grill, the only store in town.
UPDATE: 12:41 p.m. -
From Business reporter Carlie Kollath on Twitter @carlie_kollath from Blue Springs plant ...
Copenhaver: That concludes our official ceremony. Please join us for lunch. (we hear it is BBQ from Hog Wild) #ToyotaMS
Copenhaver: Thank you for being with us from the beginning. You are all truly valued. #TupeloMS
Barbour unveils first new state car tag. It is "TMM MS1" with Union County.
UPDATE 12:40 p.m. -
Homemade Jamz was youngest blues band to sign on major label. Band is playing on stage. #toyotaMS
UPDATE 12:34 p.m. -
Toyoda: Let's make history together. (standing ovation) #toyotaMS
Toyoda: Corolla is best selling car in world. Was first car I ever owned. It is a great car. Challenge you to make it even better. #toyotaMS
UPDATE 12:31 p.m. -
Turner: Benefits that mean the most to me - allow me to be proactive in quality of life for me and family (daughter) #toyotaMS
Ms. Jamie Turner of paint shop is the team member representative - I was full of uncertainty when I moved from Atlanta back to my hometown of New Albany to work. #toyotaMS
UPDATE: 12:21 p.m. -
Copenhaver: 190+ people have relocated here to provide support. This is the most self-reliant plant so far. #toyotaMS
UPDATE: 12:19 p.m. -
Plant President Masafumi Hamaguchi: MS has provided great workforce. Team members are bright, excited. Welcome the challenge and ready to run. #toyotaMS
UPDATE 12:17 p.m. -
Press release from Gov. Haley Barbour ...
BLUE SPRINGS – Gov. Haley Barbour, Toyota Motor Corporation President and Chief Executive Officer Akio Toyoda and other Toyota, state and local officials gathered today at the Blue Springs plant to celebrate the start of production of the Corolla.
Approximately 1,500 workers are currently employed at the plant, which is known as Toyota Motor Manufacturing, Mississippi (TMMMS). Once production is fully underway, Toyota’s Blue Springs facility will employ 2,000 people, with another 2,000 employed in supplier facilities in the state.
“We are here to celebrate a much-anticipated milestone with the official start of production at Toyota’s Blue Springs facility,” Gov. Barbour said. “The Toyota Corolla is the world’s best-selling vehicle, and now it is being manufactured right here in our state, by our people. I appreciate everyone who worked so hard to get us where we are today, and I am proud to congratulate Toyota, its employees and the people of north Mississippi on this great achievement.”
“Mississippi has provided us with a great workforce who welcomes challenges and are eager to learn,” said Masafumi Hamaguchi, president of TMMMS. “Our slogan is: ‘Always look for the best way, using our pioneer spirit.’ The Mississippi workforce has shown that they have this spirit.”
The Corolla was first introduced in Japan in 1966. In 1968, it was introduced in the U.S., and while it was an immediately popular selection among consumers, it has evolved significantly over the past 40 years. Models to be produced at TMMMS include the Corolla, Corolla S, Corolla XRS, Corolla LE and the Corolla XLE.
“I am thrilled Toyota has entrusted Mississippi’s skilled workforce to manufacture its best-selling model and that production is now underway,” said Leland Speed, executive director of the Mississippi Development Authority. “We are proud to have partnered with Toyota to help get the company’s newest production plant up and running in Blue Springs, and we wish the company many years of success in Mississippi.”
Toyota (NYSE:TM) established operations in North America in 1957 and currently operates 14 manufacturing plants. There are more than 1,800 Toyota, Lexus and Scion dealerships in North America which sold more than two million vehicles in 2010. Toyota directly employs more than 35,000 people in North America, and its investment here is currently valued at more than $23 billion, including sales and manufacturing operations, research and development, financial services and design. Toyota's annual purchasing of parts, materials, goods and services from North American suppliers totals nearly $25 billion. For more information about Toyota, visit www.toyota.com or www.toyotanewsroom.com.
UPDATE 12:13 p.m. -
Barbour: I knew they made right decision. 75 years from now, your grandchildren's children are going to be working here. #toyotaMS
Barbour: These things don't happen over night. See people here who helped us. Thank you! Welcome home to MS, Toyota. Welcome home. #toyotaMS
UPDATE: 12:05 p.m. -
Barbour: It's easy to be a good partner in easy times, but Toyota has been our great partner when it wasn't as easy. #ToyotaMS
Gov. Haley Barbour: God gave us a beautiful day outside for our first day with Toyota. Marsha and I welcome you to our state. #ToyotaMS
Click here for Toyota press release announcing the Toyota production starting at Blue Springs.
First Corolla has been driven on stage.
UPDATE: 11:58 a.m.-
Copenhaver: Our theme today is "Let the performance begin." Thought this was a fitting thing. MS birthplace of America's music. #ToyotaMS
UPDATE 11:57 a.m. -
Copenhaver: MS senators are not here due to imp vote but they have reps here. #ToyotaMS
UPDATE: 11:56 a.m. -
- Copenhaver welcoming lots of people - Phil Bryant, wives, Toyota Counsel of Japan, legislators, etc. #ToyotaMS
UPDATE 11:51 a.m. -
- Song playing now: "Standing at the crossroads." #ToyotaMS
UPDATE 10:55 a.m. - From Business reporter Carlie Kollath on Twitter @carlie_kollath from press conference at plant ...
- Jim Lentz of Toyota: Sub compact market is largest market in US. Expected to outpace growth in market. Corolla is sales leader in that segment. #ToyotaMS
- David Copenhaver, the vice president of Toyota Motor Manufacturing Mississippi,: Completed our hiring. 90 percent from MS. 70 percent from 11 counties in area. #ToyotaMS
- Gov. Haley Barbour: While they (Toyota) delayed the opening, candidly, it made me feel better about their decision to come here. #ToyotaMS
- Steve St. Angelo, Toyota’s executive vice president for North American engineering and manufacturing who also serves as chairman of TMMMS, 550 vehicles so far and they are being distributed to dealers. Most went to East Coast or Gulf States.
- Toyoda via translator: IF there is strong patronage of the Corolla, that will lead to increased production. #ToyotaMS
UPDATE 10:30 a.m. - From Business reporter Carlie Kollath on Twitter @carlie_kollath ...
- Phil Bryant and Marsha Barbour are here. #ToyotaMS @HaleyBarbour is greeting press: "Welcome to Mississippi."
- Gov @HaleyBarbour is having a quiet chat with #ToyotaMS execs now. Akio Toyoda just arrived.
UPDATE 10 a.m. - BLUE SPRINGS, Miss. (AP) — After a lengthy delay due the sluggish economy, Toyota plans to roll out its first car Thursday at its newest North American plant in a highly anticipated event expected to draw business and government leaders to this tiny town in north Mississippi.
The celebration of the first production Corolla at the plant comes almost five years after Toyota Motor Corp. announced in February 2007 that it would build a $1.3 billion facility in Blue Springs.
The company first planned to build the Highlander SUV, then the gas-electric Prius before settling on Corollas. Production was planned for 2010, but Toyota blamed the weak economy for the delay.
Mississippi officials anticipate an economic boom in this sparsely populated region as suppliers and other companies follow Toyota to Mississippi.
Click here for coverage at the Biz Buzz blog.