EDITORIAL: What's Ahead?

The beginning of the jobs application process for Toyota Motor Manufacturing Mississippi – the Corolla assembly plant near Blue Springs in Union County – appears to have created unprecedented interest for a new venture in Northeast Mississippi. As of last week, more than 10,000 applications had been received for positions at the plant that won’t open for production until the fall of 2011.
Dozens of states across the nation are represented in the applicant pool, but most are from Mississippi. The electronic stack of applications is certain to grow as months pass.
If the experience of our neighbors in Alabama is a basis for comparison, many thousands more job-seekers will apply. When the first 20 jobs for the Mercedes-Benz assembly plant near Tuscaloosa were advertised, 63,000 people applied.
The town of Vance, population 400, was selected for many reasons similar to Toyota’s choosing the PUL Alliance site near Blue Springs. It was appropriately isolated, environmentally appealing, adjacent major highways, and the incentive package – $300 million – was right.
The Vance facility has become a landmark along Interstate 59 – the familiar three-pointed star soaring above it to clearly identify what it is.
As Alabama has learned, winning the plant was great but having the plant fully in production is infinitely better. In addition to providing very good jobs for about 2,000 employees, the Mercedes presence has created cultural diversity previously unknown in that part of the state.
The development along the I-59 corridor leading to Tuscaloosa has been beyond expectations, and the plant’s success has become a self-contained international advertisement for doing business in Alabama.
Johnny Mack Morrow, a legislator and weekly columnist for the Franklin County Times in Russellville, Ala., wrote late in August, “Since the recession started back in 2007, Alabama has seen some pretty tough times. We had a record spike in unemployment, our exports and manufacturing staggered, and the overall health of our economy has made families worry about the future.
“There have been recent signs of recovery in our state. Alabama’s jobless rate fell to 9.7 percent in July, which is down from 10.3 percent in June. Even though the figure is still too high, it is the lowest level in 15 months.
“The figures show that there are 20,000 more Alabamians at work than there were a year ago, and the long-term trend is one of continued strengthening in the job market.
“Our state is getting back to work again, and the recovery is being led by our state’s number one industry, automobiles.”
He notes that “shifts and hours are up for Honda, Mercedes, Hyundai, and the dozens of suppliers who operate in our state.”
“More than 140,000 Alabamians are hard at work in the auto industry today.”
That extraordinary impact has unfolded in 16 years, as Morrow notes – from zero cars to more than 230,000 manufactured this year.
Morrow praised the private-sector-public sector partnership that built Alabama’s auto industry, and noted strongly that it has highlighted the skill and effectiveness of Alabama workers.
Alabama, he notes, has moved into second place nationwide in auto manufacturing.
The beginning of Toyota hiring is great news, but as Alabama has learned, the rest of the story becomes as important.

NEMS Daily Journal