BLUE SPRINGS — Toyota is finally preparing to produce vehicles from its plant in Blue Springs. And according to the Mississippi Development Authority (MDA), Mississippi community colleges are ready to train the automaker’s workers.
When two megasites – one in Blue Springs, near Tupelo, and the other in Lowndes County – were being developed as potential sites for large economic development projects, four north Mississippi community colleges joined forces to create the Mississippi Corridor Consortium. Their goal is to increase the competitiveness of the region and its workforce and to be prepared to meet the training needs of current and future Mississippi businesses, alike.
“We recognized that if these megasite projects came to fruition, no one school could provide all of the training needed to support these giant industries,” said James Williams, vice president of Itawamba Community College and chair of the consortium’s governing board. “The consortium allows us to share our staffing resources to ensure that every need is met.”
The Mississippi Corridor Consortium is comprised of Itawamba Community College, Northeast Mississippi Community College, Northwest Mississippi Community College and East Mississippi Community College.
Toyota is moving forward with its plans to begin producing the Toyota Corolla at the plant it began constructing at the Blue Springs site in 2007. Production is slated to begin in the fall of 2011.
Also since the consortium was established, PACCAR, a global producer of light, medium and heavy-duty trucks, announced it was locating an engine production facility at the Lowndes County megasite. The company will begin assembly work at its new facility this summer.
“Since the consortium was formed, our members have worked together to establish many different types of training and certification programs for companies, including Toyota and PACCAR,” said Williams. “And when a company’s plans change – in Toyota’s case, from manufacturing the Prius to producing the Corolla – we are able to change with them, so that our training and evaluation programs meet the needs of the employer.” ”
After Toyota announced a delay in its plans to begin production at its Blue Springs Toyota facility, consortium members continued the work of preparing for future training opportunities – not only for Toyota employees, but also for the thousands of jobs that will be created by Toyota’s suppliers.
In July 2007, Itawamba Community College purchased a former Lane Furniture facility in Belden, about a 10-minute drive from Toyota’s Blue Springs plant. Since that time, the college has used grant funds from the U.S. Economic Development Administration and MDA to transform the 250,000-square-foot facility into a training and evaluation center, now known as the Belden Center. Complete with traditional classrooms and spaces that simulate manufacturing scenarios, the site will be used to train hundreds of technicians who will be working for Toyota and its suppliers.