By NEMS Daily Journal
Sometime next month – which starts Tuesday – it’’s expected Toyota will have an official grand opening of its Corolla assembly plant in Blue Springs. The celebration will almost certainly acknowledge that Toyota Motor Manufacturing Mississippi has weathered a change in models for the plant, a deep nationwide recession, slumping sales, recalls, and most notably a major earthquake and tsunami that crippled production and preparation in Japan.
The plant was announced with unprecedented fanfare by Gov. Haley Barbour in Tupelo on Feb. 27, 2007, with a huge crowd filling the Tupelo High School Performing Arts Center.
The national business news coverage put Tupelo on page 1 of The Wall Street Journal for having landed the most important manufacturing investment of the year.
Excitement was almost palpable. Prospects for thousands of new jobs at the plant and its Tier 1 suppliers energized optimism.
When the economy all but tanked a few months later and auto sales fell generally for most manufacturers a season of high anxiety followed a change in production plans, a delay that many feared would dash the $1.3 billion investment. A a long period of perceived uncertainty continued, AND a regional case of the jitters set in.
Planning and confidence remained in a core of leadership whose optimism never waived in public, and a new start-up 15 months ago affirmed belief that Toyota was good on its word.
The anticipated start of production powers the hiring and work at suppliers, which are located in Tennessee, in the Northeast Mississippi region and in the I-55 corridor.
The economic impact of new wages, taxes and spending will be measurable across a wide swath of what been called the Southern auto belt.
The larger impact of Toyota’s presence is readily visible.
It’s certain that had Gov. Barbour not maintained his confidence in Toyota’s commitment the new Highway 9 – ahead of construction from Sherman to Pontotoc – would not have moved forward as a fully funded economic development project. It’s possible, even probable, that the new four-lane artery will be open a year from today.
It will help empower Toyota-related development and create a new and convenient route linking U.S. 78/Interstate 22 with Mississippi Highway 6/U.S. 278 and via Highway 6, Interstate 55.
Toyota, of course, should not be the last word in development. It is a benchmark, a standard made to be exceeded and built on.
Challenges remain in keeping the strongly established furniture manufacturers in the region – especially completing highway improvements needed for their traffic.