Toyota Motor Corp. (NYSE:TM) has restarted hiring for a factory near Tupelo, Miss., that has been dormant since 2008, with the first 10 new recruits of a planned 2,000-strong work force set to begin training during the first week of January, The Wall Street Journal reported Monday.
After a two-year hiatus, Toyota plans to start producing compact Corolla cars at an eighth vehicle assembly plant in North America in fall 2011, providing a long-anticipated boost to northern Mississippi.
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While fewer than 150 people reside in the rural town of Blue Springs where the factory is located, locals say the jobs will help ease an 11 percent unemployment rate in Northeastern Mississippi, partly the legacy of thousands of job losses from overseas outsourcing in the region's mainstay furniture industry.
"When you see a billion-dollar investment in that part of the state, it's significant," says Gray Swoope, executive director of the state's business development authority based in Jackson, Miss. "In 10 years, we expect to see even more [Toyota] models and more jobs."
The state also expects to recoup its investment in 10 years.
For Toyota, the Blue Springs plant represents a $1 billion bet on higher demand for its cars as US vehicle sales recover from recessionary lows and its brand image recovers from a massive recall.
State and local officials express confidence their nearly $300 million investment to lure Toyota will be justified as the plant expands its vehicle lineup beyond the Corolla and as more automotive parts suppliers and spinoff service providers set up shop nearby.
"We're hoping they will announce a 'phase two' even before the first car runs off the line here," says Vernon R. Kelley III, executive director of the Three Rivers Planning and Development District, a local nonprofit intergovernmental organization. "Historically, that's what they have done" at Toyota plants in West Virginia and Texas, he says.