The state’s young automotive industry already has an association that’s working hard to grow the industry. Formed in 2003, the Mississippi Automotive Manufacturers Association (MAMA) supports the industry and its members by promoting growth, development and improvement of the automotive industry.
Obviously, the Nissan plant in Canton led the way in forming the organization but related manufacturers, direct and indirect suppliers and associated companies make up the 65-member roster. There are also some out-of-state members who are connected to the industry. Outgoing MAMA president and vice president of manufacturing at the Canton plant, David Boyer said other states have similar organizations and it was important to form an association once Nissan started making automobiles in the state.
“The original purpose was to pull together the people involved directly and indirectly in the automobile business,” he said. “We come together to share ideas and information such as best practices with each other and to network. The bigger we can make the organization, the more advances we can have and make available to everyone else.”
The new MAMA president is Kevin Logan, plant manager of Unipres Southeast located in Forest. For him, the networking with others in the industry has been very rewarding. “I’ve learned a lot more about the industry,” he said. “From the outside you see a lot of little companies. In MAMA we see how we all come together and play our roles.”
Logan worked at the Unipres plant in Smyrna, Tenn., and says he accepted the challenge to move to Mississippi and get the plant going. A Japanese owned company, Unipres is a metal stamping plant that supplies Nissan with parts for vehicle bodies. It has a plant everywhere there’s a Nissan plant.
“Our main mission in MAMA is to promote the growth of automotive makers in Mississippi. Our goal is to bring more automotive-related companies into the state and I’m optimistic about that growth,” he said. “I see potential here, and it helps everyone as the automotive industry grows. It will continue to change the way South Mississippi looks.”
Logan and Boyer are not discouraged by rising gasoline prices and decreasing interest in large vehicles. “The automotive industry will always be here,” Logan said. “The Japanese will be leaders in finding alternatives and making more efficient cars. These challenges will make the industry stronger.”
Boyer says the price of fuel has a direct impact on the industry and unfortunately for Canton, the plant makes the larger vehicles. With Nissan since 1991 and formerly with Ford Motor Company, he points out that the automobile business is very competitive and companies can never just sit still.
“We must always make better products and be more efficient,” he said. “Nissan is taking some initiatives to remain competitive.”
Those initiatives include redesigns for more fuel economy of the Sentra, Altima and Maxima models in 2007; the launching of the hybrid Altima; and the introduction of the entry-level Bersa with a sticker price starting at $13,000. The hybrid Altima will be made at the Tennessee plant. Boyer said the standard Altima will continue to be made in Canton.
“People should not be concerned. We have all our employees working in Canton, and we are watching and making adjustments,” he said. “The strong thing in our favor is that we make five models. We can switch back and forth and make the vehicles that are selling the most and balance ourselves that way.”
Boyer said the Altima model is currently being produced at the Canton facility that employs 4,000 direct employees and about 2,000 contract employees.
He agrees that a major goal for MAMA is to bring more automotive companies into the state and that there is potential to grow. “The state is in a pretty good position; geographically surrounded by the automotive industry in the Southeast,” he said. “The climate for business is good here. Both the local and state governments have been good to work with and that’s a plus.”
Boyer and Logan are complimentary of the state’s workforce and the training they received. “We do our own training,” Boyer said, “but the community colleges and Mississippi State University were extremely helpful. We have MSU’s Center for Advanced Vehicular Studies right across the street from the plant.”
Logan said Unipres’ 142-employee workforce is made up of local people 100%.
The association awarded its first annual scholarship last year to a student attending MSU and majoring in a field related to the automotive industry.
MAMA holds quarterly meetings at different locations for members to talk about relevant subjects and gain information. Member surveys are used to determine topics of interest. Recent topics have included healthcare costs control, energy costs and training.
“Training is a popular issue and we do a lot of that,” Boyer said. “A lot of thought swapping goes on at the meetings.”
Contact MBJ contributing Lynn Lofton at email@example.com.