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Nissan Canton: A driving force for Mississippi’s economy

By ALAN TURNER

Recently, the Mississippi Business Journal had the opportunity to tour Nissan’s state-of-the-art manufacturing facility in Canton, and spend some time talking with Steve Marsh, the new Vice President and Plant Manager.

Seeing the plant in full operation is an incredible experience.  Nissan conducts tours on Tuesdays and Thursdays, and they’re pleased to welcome folks of all ages.  The day we took the tour, we shared the tram with a group of excited youngsters who were as fascinated as we were with the workings of this huge facility.

Following an introductory session, the tour group is loaded onto a tram and basically taken from one end of the plant to the other, beginning with the stamping operation, and moving through a variety of production lines that are staffed by both human and robot workers.  As you would expect, most of the production functions are highly automated, and it’s quite the sight to see all of those robots at work busily performing various tasks.  On one line, we watched as robots actually extended their “arms” into cars to perform certain tasks.

Lest one conclude that robots have replaced people, it’s important to realize that this one plant employs over 6,000 people from this region, and obviously, that makes a huge impact on central Mississippi, because those jobs also support numerous other jobs.  It would be hard to argue with the conclusion that Nissan has made one of the most significant impacts on our state of any project in recent times.

Once the tram tour was completed, I had the opportunity to interview the Plant Manager, Steve Marsh, as well as a couple of employees who work in the plant.

Steve is new to Mississippi, having been appointed to his position in April of this year.  He began his career with Nissan in his home area of Newcastle, United Kingdom, and spent much of his career there.  In fact, he joined a special program that Nissan offers to young, promising employees, in which he attended the company’s engineering school (a four and a half year program), then worked his way up through various roles through the years.  He learned early on that he had a knack for management, and grew in overall responsibility.  In 2010, he was sent to South Africa to work on a new product launch, then worked later in a Renault facility (as part of the Renault-Nissan alliance), and finally, receiving a call in February of this year to come to Mississippi and take on the Canton management role.  He arrived in Mississippi in April.

Asked how he likes the Magnolia State, he replied, “We love it.  Of course, it’s a bit hot, isn’t it?”

We could certainly agree on that, as July has been an exceedingly warm month, even for Mississippi.

I asked about the plant’s operations and capabilities.

“We’ll make about 340,000 vehicles this year,” he said.  “That’s going to be an increase of around 40,000 compared with last year.”

That’s a lot of vehicles, but I asked him what the plant could do if it were running full out.

“Oh, I think we could produce more than 450,000 if we ran full out,” he said.  “That would be keeping all our lines open and fully staffed on all shifts.”

I asked Steve how he feels about doing business in Mississippi.

“This has been a very positive venture for us, and the state has been very supportive all along the way.

We like to think that we’ve made a big contribution to the economy of the state, because not only do we employ 6,000 people here, but research tells us that for each one of those jobs, there are several other new jobs created.”

Does Steve see a bright future for Nissan in Mississippi?

“Definitely,” he said.  “We’re very bullish on our future here.  Our vehicles are selling great guns, and we expect that to continue down the way.”

What challenges does he foresee?

“Overall, if I have an concerns, it would have to be our ability to have the right skilled workforce to draw from,” he said.

Steve is married and has two kids.  He lives in Madison County and has been gradually getting to know the community and the state.

I also had the opportunity to meet with tow of the company’s employees: Claude Potter, a repair tech, and Christina Doss, a production tech.  I was curious to know from their perspective how they feel about working for Nissan.

Claude has worked for Nissan for the past 13 years, and lives in Yazoo City.

“I really love working here,” he said.  “I make a good living for my family, and I’m sending one of my kids to Mississippi State.”  He’s also very pleased with the benefits he gets, which includes online health services, an onsite bank, cafeteria, and much more. “Overall, I hope to be able to retire from here,” he told me.

“We get good ongoing training here,” he said.  “Whenever there is something new, they provide sessions for us to learn.”

Christina agreed that Nissan is an outstanding place to work.

“This is like my family here,” she said.  “We like each other, and we get along really well.”

She has also worked at the plant for 13 years, and she’s currently working on her college degree.

“I feel really blessed to have my job,” she said.  “And I hope to have a bright future down the road.”

It’s a very encouraging thing to see a highly productive manufacturing operation such as Nissan, and to hear how the folks who work there feel about it.

We are certainly fortunate to have a facility such as this in our state, and it will undoubtedly continue to make a strong contribution to the economic prosperity of our state in coming years.

About Alan Turner

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