“Happy Manufacturing Day to you,” Melanie Stover of The Manufacturing Institute greeted participants on the closing day of the 2013 Southern Automotive Conference at Beau Rivage in Biloxi. “It’s my favorite holiday.”
Stover and her fellow conference participants laughed at the line but couldn’t be more serious about the importance of manufacturing and its economic impact.
Mississippi, the host for this year’s meeting, ranks sixth in the nation in manufacturing employment, according to the state’s Manufacturing Association. Manufacturing employs more than 135,700, or 12 percent of Mississippi jobs in all 82 counties and helps to add more than 195,000 jobs in local communities. Mississippi manufacturers pay more than $5.66 billion in wages and salaries annually. Manufacturing contributes more than $15 billion, or 17 percent, to the gross state product of Mississippi. Mississippi manufacturers exported $11.8 billion to the world in 2012, including the state’s top export markets of Panama, Canada, and China. A total of 57 Fortune 500 companies have 101 manufacturing plants in Mississippi.
If you haven’t heard of National Manufacturing Day, that’s not surprising. This was only the second annual observance, which Stover said was designed to “change the perception of what it is and what it isn’t.”
Manufacturing is no longer “dirty, dark and dangerous,” she said. “It’s clean and high tech.”
That technology was showcased in a session on the Southern Automotive Corridor and in the roundtable discussion with Southern automakers.
Executives of Toyota, Nissan and PACCAR Engine talked about their Mississippi based operations, investments and potential for expansion.
Toyota’s Doug Formby said the automaker has 2,000 employees in Blue Springs who will build 165,000 Corollas this year, 180,000 next year and slightly more in 2015. “Early next year will be begin exporting Corollas from Mississippi to 18 different countries in Latin America and the Caribbean,” he said.
Toyota’s export business is growing, Formby said, “and we expect that to continue.”
Formby said, “We’ve got a very bright future with Toyota and we feel really good about Mississippi. The people in this state are absolutely outstanding and I’m extremely optimistic about doing business in this great state.”
There are challenges, he said, including not having suppliers closer and having enough skilled workers. “We have launched a number of partnerships with colleges and universities to build the advanced manufacturing skills necessary to run a complex operation like we have there in Blue Springs,” he said.
Nissan’s Don Stoegbauer said the company has announced $5.2 billion in investments in U.S. plants including Canton that will create more than 10,000 jobs in the southern region.
“You’ve got to be able to build where you sell them to be competitive,” he said, echoing a frequently used phrase.
The goal is to have 85 percent of Nissans sold in the U.S. produced in North America by 2015.
The Nissan plant in Canton, the first auto facility in the state, celebrated its tenth anniversary milestone this year. “The Mississippi plant has seen strong growth, adding 2,000 jobs since 2011,” he said.
New models joining production in Canton in 2014 and 2015 plus the addition of a 1 million-square-foot suppliers park are more signs of stability for the Nissan plant and its suppliers.
Lex Lemmers, manager of the PACCAR Engine plant in Columbus, said the plant has a worldwide customer base and the $400 million facility competes globally. “We’re still growing the business,” he said.
Asked about whether new greenfield development opportunities were foreseen in the Southeast, both Forby and Stoegbauer said that the economic downturn is still fresh on the minds of their respective automakers, creating cautious growth plans.
Stoegbauer said Nissan’s goal is to get the most out of each plant like the one in Canton before investing in new plants.
Formby said Toyota is well positioned for growth. “The state of Mississippi is going to be big in Toyota’s plans for the future. We’re going to be here a long time. Right now we’re focused on building the highest quality vehicles we possibly can.”
The 2013 Southern Automotive Conference was presented by the Mississippi Automotive Manufacturers Association along with the Tennessee and Alabama associations.