Decision proof Northeast Mississippi can get job done

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Published: March 19,2007

I was caught completely off-guard with Toyota’s decision to locate an automotive assembly plant in Northeast Mississippi. It amazes me that something that big could be kept so totally under wraps. It appears that all the necessary agreements have been signed and the plant will be up and running in a couple of years.

This will be a huge shot in the arm for Northeast Mississippi. Just as the Nissan plant has permanently changed the Central Mississippi economic landscape, so will Toyota change the Tupelo area. Northeast Mississippians are good folks, and this deal couldn’t have happened to a better region.

Why Northeast Mississippi?

Why did Toyota choose Northeast Mississippi? Though I’m not privy to any confidential company strategies, I can imagine some factors that certainly entered into the decision.
The most obvious is the migration of the auto manufacturing industry from the northern U.S. to the South. Beginning in San Antonio, Texas, and running due east through Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia and South Carolina, the auto industry has located a half dozen or so plants in the past few years. It’s only natural that Mississippi would be a prime candidate for an additional plant.

And, along with the plants themselves comes a clutch of supplier facilities. We are now located in the middle of the automobile manufacturing cluster for the U.S. It’s really bad for the northern U.S., but really good for us.

Further, I’m sure that Toyota was aware of the success Nissan has enjoyed with its plant here in Central Mississippi. As I’m sure everyone will recall, Nissan undertook and successfully executed the gargantuan task of rolling out several new automobile models in a new plant in a short period of time. Apparently, Mississippians can get the job done.

Something special

Beyond clusters and location there’s something unique and special about Northeast Mississippi. They plan their communities and work together. There is a sense of unity in that area of the state that is unique.

Readers of state financial news are aware that the furniture industry, of which Northeast Mississippi has become a national leader, has been increasingly subjected to competitive pressure from China and thousands of jobs have been lost. Though there’s talk about leveling the playing field through trade agreements with China, for the foreseeable future, U.S. industry cannot compete with Chinese labor costs. Thus, the furniture competition problem is not going away anytime soon.

Rather than grovel and groan about how unfair things are, the community got energized and went after a replacement for the lost furniture jobs. The new Toyota plant is the result of those efforts and the community and political leaders in Northeast Mississippi, as well as our statewide leaders and congressional delegation, are to be commended for a job well done.

Committed to education

None of this would have been possible without the commitment to education and training, along with excellent public schools, that has been part of the Northeast Mississippi culture for many years. Effective workforce training is made possible through support and collaboration between the area’s two community colleges, Northeast at Booneville and Itawamba at Fulton, and the University of Mississippi and Mississippi State University.

There’s a lesson here for some other parts of our state to learn. The good jobs of tomorrow, and today for that matter, cannot be done with an illiterate workforce.

A strong community support for education and training will pay dividends. Train the workforce and the jobs will come.

Thought for the Moment

To do what you do, and feel that it matters. How could anything else be more fun?

— publisher Katharine

Graham (1917-2001)

Joe D. Jones, CPA (retired), is publisher of the Mississippi Business Journal. Contact him at cpajones@msbusiness.com.

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