2011: Year in Review – Toyota starts production after 4 1/2-year wait

By Dennis Seid | NEMS Daily Journal

Toyota Motor Corp.’s long-awaited plans to open its Blue Springs plant finally came to fruition in October, as the Japanese automaker built its first Mississippi-produced car.
The Toyota Corolla, the best-selling vehicle in automotive history, is being built at Toyota Motor Manufacturing Mississippi. The nearly 2-million-square-foot plant sits on 1,700 acres and employs some 1,700 workers. Sometime in early 2012, the plant is expected to employ 2,000 workers.
Toyota officials joined state and local leaders at an elaborate line-off ceremony in November to help celebrate the plant’s official opening, which occurred about a year later than originally planned.
In February 2007, Toyota announced it would build its Highlander crossover SUV at the plant beginning in 2010. But in the summer of 2008, as the global recession began to take hold, the automaker announced it was adjusting its North American manufacturing operations and said TMMMS would build the popular Prius hybrid vehicle and open in late 2010.
However, in December 2008, citing deteriorating economic conditions and a global slump in auto demand, Toyota said it would suspend the plant indefinitely.
In June 2010, Toyota announced it would restart operations at the plant and build the Corolla. Officials said it would be an aggressive plan to open the plant by the fall of 2011. More than 41,000 applicants sought jobs after hiring began.
Suppliers for the Blue Springs plant are dotted across north Mississippi. One supplier is in Tennessee and another in Alabama. In Northeast Mississippi, four suppliers – Auto Parts Manufacturing Mississippi in Baldwyn, Diversity-Vuteq in New Albany, Toyota Boshoku Mississippi in Dorsey and Systems Automotive Interiors in Dorsey – combined employ another 800 workers.
According to one economic study, Toyota could employ more than 5,600 people in the state next year – most of them in Northeast Mississippi. Toyota says some 17,000 direct and indirect jobs will be created over the years.
dennis.seid@journalinc.com