fulton — The first supplier for Toyota Mississippi officially announced its new Northeast Mississippi location August 28. Toyota Boshoku America (TBA) will build a 341,000-square-foot plant on 40 acres south of U.S. 78 in western Itawamba County.
Facing an audience of several hundred at the Fine Arts Center of Itawamba Community College, Gov. Haley Barbour received full credit for landing the plant, which will produce seats, carpets and cloth door trim for the Highlanders to be built at Toyota Motor Manufacturing Mississippi’s Highlander SUV assembly plant 24 miles to the west in Blue Springs.
“This is one of the largest projects supporting the main Toyota plant,” Barbour said. His speech was interrupted a couple times by applause and at least one standing ovation at the actual announcement.
Phase one entails $80-$100 million worth of construction scheduled for completion in the fall of 2008. It will employ 500 workers when production begins in 2010. Phase two, which has not been announced, could comprise another $20 million of construction and eventually employ 1,000 workers.
“I am confident that phase two will be built,” said Barbour.
According to Kiyoshi “Nate” Furuta, chairman and CEO for Toyota Boshoku America, the company was founded in Japan in 1918. The Japanese name Boshoku, he explained, literally translates to “weaving and spinning.” “Toyota” was originally “Toyoda,” the surname of company founder Sakichi Toyoda.
It is not affiliated with Toyota other than as a parts supplier. Boshoku sells to other automobile manufacturers, but the Fulton facility will be dedicated to the needs of Toyota in Blue Springs.
Furuta said in his remarks that the firm “will make seats just-in-time,” according to the Toyota practice of not warehousing parts. The automaker instead relies on constant production and delivery of parts by its suppliers, many of which are expected to follow Boshoku’s lead and open plants in areas 20-30 miles or farther from the Union County plant currently under construction.
“We are proud to be part of the fabric of Itawamba County,” Furuta said in a play on its upholstery mission to the assembled crowd. “There are two reasons we chose to be here, the workforce and the community itself.”
Fulton is home of Itawamba Community College, which received a $20,000 donation for its workforce training and development department from Boshoku during the announcement ceremony.
The college, says President David Cole, is “proud to be a small part of the equation” in its role providing some of the training and work preparation for future employees.
“We have been waiting for you a long time,” Cole says.
Furuta lauded the region’s work ethic and its apparent desire to see the Japanese firm locate there. “Our president says we like to go someplace we’re wanted.”
In a question-and-answer period for media after the official announcement was finished, Furuta explained TBA will begin accepting employment applications soon, and that Boshoku workers’ wages would not be as high as those earned at the Toyota Mississippi assembly plant, estimated to average approximately $20 per hour, plus benefits.
Although Barbour declared during the ceremony that the Boshoku jobs would be “high-paying, high-tech” positions, most positions will likely be similar to upholstery manufacturing jobs, hands-on, assembly-line production work.
Wages, it turns out, may not be much higher than any other manufacturing jobs in the region.
“We don’t like to be disruptive in local areas,” said Furuta. “We will study the area and decide what the package will be.”
“Suppliers don’t pay as much as the main plant,” said Dennis Cuneo, executive advisor for Boshoku.
“It will be more than 110% of the average wages in the area,” said Barbour.
A reporter asked him if that figure would be the average of manufacturing wages or if it would be an average of every pay level, including, for example, workers making minimum wage in fast-food establishments. The latter case could drop the average far below what it might be if based solely on normally higher manufacturing pay rates.
“I don’t know, that’s a question you’re going to have to ask the lawyers,” Barbour said.