OUR OPINION: Toyota Mississippi sets production high

Toyota’s still-expanding success in manufacturing Corollas at its plant in Blue Springs every day more closely resembles the broader expectations created when the Japan-based car giant announced in February 2007 that it would build an assembly plant at an industrial megasite owned equally and jointly by a three-county alliance.

Toyota Motor Manufacturing Mississippi conducted a media tour of the plant for the first time on Monday, a celebration of reaching milestone production of 160,000 vehicles per year, one every 77 seconds.

The site, developed by the PUL Alliance of Pontotoc, Union and Lee counties, has about 2,500 employees at work for Toyota and its on-site suppliers.

The Corolla is the No. 1-selling automobile in the world. It is built in North American plants at Blue Springs and in Canada.

The Blue Springs plant, which rolled off its first vehicle in October 2011, has built more than 250,000 of the world’s best-selling car. Toyota has built more than 40 million of the automobiles since 1966.

The Blue Springs plant will begin exporting some of its Mississippi production to 18 nations in Latin America and the Caribbean.

Production described during the media tour is of a scale at least imagined by everyone who attended former Gov. Haley Barbour’s announcement of the site selection in February 2007. The Great Recession slowed actual construction at the site, but production started in October 2011.

The plant builds a Corolla every 77 seconds – more than 160,000 vehicles a year. Toyota expects to export 7,500 Corollas from Mississippi in 2014.

The Corolla has come the full cycle in the auto manufacturing world – from an export into the U.S. to an export from the U.S. – made in Mississippi, a descriptive not imagined for any make of car 20 years ago.

Exports begin in April.

Toyota employs 2,000 workers at TMMMS, a level described as an official plan since the plant was announced. Another 1,500 work for seven other suppliers to the plant.

Several Mississippi development leaders outside TMMS have said consistently they expect Toyota eventually to double the size and workforce at the Blue Springs plant, based on previous patterns at other sites. Whether or not that happens any time soon, the company’s impact in the region already has been felt in a big way.