Mississippi economic development leaders tout the state’s location as “the heart of the Southern Automotive Corridor.” Next month the Mississippi Automotive Manufacturers Association will host the annual Southern Automotive Conference and organizers expect a packed house at Beau Rivage in Biloxi. The joint conference Oct. 2-4 with the Alabama and Tennessee auto manufacturers will carry the theme “In the Driver’s Seat: Steering Strategically.”
Barbara McDaniel, manager of external and government relations for Toyota Motor Engineering and Manufacturing North America and the president of Mississippi’s automotive manufacturers association, said the sessions will focus on workforce, procurement, sustainability.
“We’ve got a really nice lineup of panelists who will bring a variety of perspectives in each of those sessions,” she said.
They include Peter Ricchiuti, founder and director of Burkenroad Reports at Tulane University who is the featured speaker at the opening session, and Thomas Klier, senior economist with the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago who is on the panel discussing the state of the Southern Automotive Corridor.
A panel session on energy’s impact on manufacturing and consumer demand includes Thomas Fanning, president and CEO of Southern Company, and William Johnson, president and CEO of the Tennessee Valley Authority. Gov. Phil Bryant also is on the agenda for a luncheon presentation and MAMA will present its award of excellence as part of that event.
McDaniel is part of a panel discussion on corporate responsibility to people, communities and the environment. “It’s a really diverse program from beginning to end,” she said. The final session is a roundtable update on the industry including Toyota’s and Nissan’s Mississippi plants.
McDaniel said Mississippi’s auto manufacturing industry “is very strong and getting stronger.”
The Nissan plant became the first automotive assembly facility in the state when it opened in 2003 in Canton. This year the company announced the addition of the Murano to its production, joining seven other models produced in the plant.
Toyota announced its Blue Springs production facility in February 2007, and today the plant’s 2,000 employees manufacture the Corolla. The plant has attracted eight Tier-1 suppliers to support its operations that have a total of about 1,500 employees.
McDaniel said the state’s workforce helped attract Toyota to Blue Springs. “From our experience, one of the most appealing factors was the availability of a hard working, dedicated workforce in that area,” she said.
Blue Springs and Union County were a longtime furniture manufacturing center, and she said, “Those folks worked very hard and they’re proud of what they do. That’s the kind of person that Toyota looks for when we’re hiring to build what we think are the world’s best cars. So we’ve had a very good experience.”
The MAMA has what McDaniel described as a broad membership, including associate members not directly with the auto industry but who have an interested is making contacts with the industry, including engineering firms, law firms, accountants and banks. Many are expected to participate in the Biloxi conference. The meeting rotates among Mississippi, Alabama and Tennessee and this will be just the second time Mississippi will serve as host.
“We are fully expecting a minimum of 400,” McDaniel said. “I would be surprised if it doesn’t go over 400.”
The association provides networking opportunities for members “to get together to talk about best practices and to advance the auto industry within the state,” McDaniel said. MAMA also awards annual scholarships for those pursuing education in an auto related field.
McDaniel praised the work of the Mississippi Development Authority and the Mississippi State University’s Center for Advanced Vehicular Systems for organizing and supporting the conference. The agenda, she said, is a great drawing card for attendees.
Exhibit space has sold out to 76 exhibitors and there are 30 more on a waiting list. “People really want to come to this event,” she said. “That speaks to the quality lineup from the program side. Anybody who has an interest at all in the auto industry wants to be at this.”