The strongly encouraging words from the head of Toyota North America late on Tuesday about building the Prius at Toyota’s assembly plant in Blue Springs could not have come at a more opportune time for recession-weary Northeast Mississippians.
Leaders, developers, educators and politicians have poured the better part of a decade into fully developing the Union County megasite called Wellspring, and Toyota was announced as its occupant in 2007. Then came the recession, and Toyota in late 2008 indefinitely delayed production.
Tuesday’s speech by Yoshi Inaba, president and chief operating officer of Toyota North America, at the Detroit Auto Show was the strongest reaffirmation in more than a year that Toyota will build its bellwether Prius hybrid in Mississippi as the economy fully recovers.
Reuters news service first reported Inaba’s statements in the speech text.
The directors of the three-county PUL Alliance (Pontotoc, Union and Lee) have to feel some relief in the public reassurance that what they have worked for and expressed confidence would happen. Production was first set to begin in early 2010, then later in the year, after the plant’s location was announced in late February 2007.
It isn’t possible to precisely predict when the economy will reach the point that Toyota’s confidence warrants fully outfitting the Blue Springs plant, which will employ 2,000. Even when that decision is made about 18 months would be required to install necessary equipment and train workers. The massive plant’s white exterior dominates the landscape at the intersection of U.S. Highway 78 and Mississippi Highway 9 at Blue Springs, but it is not useful until it is outfitted for specific functions.
Even so, infrastructure work has moved forward while waiting for Toyota’s production decision. Water service from Tupelo’s system will be operational within days, and work continues on other support structures like rail connections.
The commitment expressed by Inaba should reinforce the necessity of continuing planning for all the educational needs and other services that surely will accompany Toyota’s production debut, including 2,000 jobs at its supplier plants.
The education enterprise paralleling Toyota’s commitment ranges from a $50 million public school endowment, to community college special training, to the Center for Manufacturing Excellence and degree programs at the University of Mississippi in Oxford.
Public clarity about Toyota’s intentions provides new confidence that the hard, visionary work of recent years will produce a positive return on investment when the economy returns to expansion and stability.
NEMS Daily Journal