Toyota Mississippi Vice President David Copenhaver opened Thursday’s celebratory event at the company’s Blue Springs plant by reminding everyone that its opening had always been a matter of when, not if.
“The ‘when’ is today,” Copenhaver declared, to robust applause.
Toyota’s announcement that it will begin production at the Blue Springs plant in the fall of 2011 and that the world’s best-selling car, the Corolla, will be made there, is reason for cheers across Northeast Mississippi.
It’s been three-plus years since the company’s initial February 2007 announcement that it would build a plant here and 18 months since it put the plant on hold when the economy and the automotive market tanked. The wait has not been easy as Northeast Mississippi, like the rest of the country, suffered through economic hard times.
But Toyota had little choice given economic conditions, and postponing production was a prudent business decision for a company that has always taken the long view. In the meantime, Toyota repeatedly said it intended to keep its promise to Northeast Mississippi, and it has met all of its financial commitments to the state and region in the meantime.
Thursday, Toyota made good on that promise. State and local officials and an audience hastily gathered from around the region for the event made their appreciation clear.
There was a bit of deja vu to the celebration, with accolades to many who received them at the original announcement in 2007 – Gov. Haley Barbour, the PUL Alliance, Community Development Foundation President and CEO David Rumbarger, Three Rivers PDD Executive Director Randy Kelley, congressional and legislative delegations. It was a worthwhile exercise to again review the extraordinary teamwork, first at the local and regional level, and then with state and federal officials, that brought the project to fruition.
That’s the biggest lesson for Northeast Mississippi and the rest of the state to take from the Toyota story – that working together across traditional boundaries like county lines always beats zero-sum competition.
There’s also a dual lesson in patience and persistence in economic development. You need large doses of both.
The PUL counties – Pontotoc, Union and Lee – showed patience and persistence in the face of early opposition and adversity in developing the Wellspring industrial site, and then in the hunt for prospects. Then, when Toyota delayed the opening, patience and persistence again were called for, and again they paid off.
These characteristics are not always or even often found in local economic development efforts elsewhere. Turf protecting, political gamesmanship and finger-pointing too often predominate. Northeast Mississippi is different – and that’s worth celebrating.
NEMS Daily Journal