By Dennis Seid | NEMS Daily Journal
When Toyota Motor Corp. produced its first Mississippi-built car in October – and a month later celebrated it with a line-off ceremony – it marked the start of a new era in Northeast Mississippi.
It was the next step for the region’s economy, which has evolved through the years with cotton, dairy cattle, textiles and furniture.
When area leaders started looking ahead for the next big thing at the turn of the 21st century, they saw the burgeoning Southern automotive corridor as an entry point for the region.
If Alabama, Georgia, Kentucky, South Carolina and Tennessee could attract world-class automobile companies, so could the Magnolia State, as demonstrated by Nissan’s arrival in 2003. Leaders in Northeast Mississippi felt there was room for at least one more.
So Pontotoc, Union and Lee counties created the PUL Alliance, found a prime 1,700-acre site near Blue Springs, got megasite designation for the site and started recruiting.
The Wellspring Project site, as it was called, got Toyota’s attention.
The Japanese automaker quietly visited the area 16 times, starting in 2006.
In February 2007, Toyota announced it was building a $1.3 billion plant in Blue Springs, with plans to build the Highlander sport utility vehicle.
The Great Recession started that year, and by 2008 had hit the economy – and the automotive industry – hard. Toyota announced in December of that year it would indefinitely delay the plant’s opening. But with the economy improving 18 months later, Toyota said it would resume work at the plant and get it open in about a year.
True to their word, Toyota Motor Manufacturing Mississippi built its first car in October.
Toyota said the total investment in the plant is about $800 million. Due to the closing of a plant in California it operated along with GM, Toyota was able to shift equipment there to Mississippi, saving the company hundreds of millions of dollars.
More than 41,000 people applied for jobs at the plant, which now employs more than 1,700 workers. Sometime this year, employment will hit 2,000. In addition, suppliers for TMMS employ about 1,000 people in the region.