By NEMS Daily Journal
It’s been nearly six years since Toyota and state officials entered a packed and buzzing Tupelo High School auditorium with perhaps the biggest single piece of economic development news in Northeast Mississippi history.
Our region of the state had been chosen to become a part of the burgeoning Southern automotive industry, with the world’s leading automaker choosing it for a manufacturing plant. The day was full of excitement and anticipation about what lay ahead.
It took longer than expected to get the Blue Springs plant up and running. A severe worldwide recession intervened, then natural disaster in Japan as well as some bumps in Toyota’s otherwise stellar record of quality control.
But Toyota, at each step along the way, remained true to its word. The plant’s opening was delayed, but it was never in doubt.
This week Toyota marks the first anniversary since production began at the new plant, which makes Corollas – 100,000 and counting since Oct. 24, 2011. Today’s Daily Journal and djournal.com provide the first local photographic glimpse of the production line since the plant’s opening.
Toyota got significant state assistance through financial incentives, but it has kept its part of the deal, including direct employment of 2,000 workers. Eleven Mississippi-based suppliers have hired close to that number.
While nothing is guaranteed, growth in employment is likely in the future. That’s been the experience with Nissan in Canton and the pattern of Toyota plants elsewhere.
Toyota and automotive manufacturing came along at just the right time in Northeast Mississippi as the region was in a downward cycle in manufacturing employment. Other manufacturing, including a furniture industry that has shown some new signs of life, remains critical to our economy, and Toyota isn’t a lone ranger riding in to save Northeast Mississippi. But there’s no question it has helped stabilize the jobs situation in the region and its positive impact should only increase.
So congratulations are in order to Toyota, and to the Northeast Mississippi public officials and economic developers who had the vision and persistence to develop a plan and provide a place to lure the automaker and the companies that followed it.