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DENNIS SEID: What we knew and when we knew it

DENNIS SEID

Looking back at the decade since Toyota announced it was building a plant in Blue Springs, I’m still a bit surprised by the credit my newspaper was given for “keeping the news secret” until the day of the official announcement.

To be honest, we didn’t know much more than anyone the day before it happened. What did we know and when did we know it? The real answer: less than 24 hours before we splashed, “Here comes Toyota” on the front page of the Feb. 27 edition of the Daily Journal.

It was 10 years ago today, on a late Monday afternoon in former Journal editor Lloyd Gray’s office, that we met Barbara McDaniel for the first time.

McDaniel, who retired on Friday, was then the manager of government relations and corporate affairs for Toyota Motor Manufacturing North America. Her presence at the Journal kind of gave us a big hint.

For about a year, rumors had swirled that Toyota was coming to Northeast Mississippi. And for a year, economic development leaders, elected officials and Toyota officials didn’t have a lot to say.

The response was usually along the lines of – and I’m paraphrasing here – “we don’t discuss potential economic development projects.”

Barbara was kind enough to burst my bubble every time I asked if Toyota was looking in our area.

We tried mightily to get somebody – anybody – to tell us that Toyota was looking at the Wellspring Project site. Lips were sealed tightly.

There were reports elsewhere in the automotive press and the Wall Street Journal that said Toyota had Chattanooga and Marion, Arkansas as its favorite sites. As I recall, there were few mentions of Blue Springs.

But by February 2007, the whispers had grown louder that Toyota was coming to Northeast Mississippi. Then on that Monday, Feb. 26, there was word that something was going on at the high school and it involved Toyota. Some kind of vehicle was seen being driven into the Performing Arts Center. Also, we got word of a “major economic development announcement” for the next day at the PAC.

Aha! More evidence! Later that day, Japanese media reported Toyota was indeed selecting Blue Springs. The time difference between Northeast Mississippi and Tokyo, Japan is 15 hours, so it was already Feb. 27 when the Japanese found out.

That prompted more calls and emails.

And then Barbara came to see us. She confirmed that yes, Toyota was about to make us happy in Northeast Mississippi.

The rest is history, as the saying goes.

It’s certainly been an unforgettable decade in the region. We’ve seen the economy rise, fall and rise again. Toyota wasn’t the end-all and be-all answer to our woes, but I don’t think anyone would argue that we’re not better off with their presence.

So, Happy 10th birthday, Toyota Mississippi! Glad you’re here. Here’s to a few more decades.

» Dennis Seid is the Business Editor of the Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal in Tupelo.

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