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Archive for April, 2011

Toyota reveals production schedule; Blue Springs still on track for fall opening

April 25th, 2011 No comments

Lost in the Easter weekend shuffle was a pretty interesting nugget from Toyota about its production schedule in Japan and North America in the wake of the earthquake and tsunami.

Very early Friday morning — specifically, 1 a.m. Mississippi time — the company made known its plans to deal with the production issues it has experienced the past two months or so.

Here’s the gist, according to a Toyota press release: New vehicle production will begin to get back to pre-disaster levels as early as July in Japan, and in August in North America. By November and December, production should be back to normal here and overseas.

Obviously, you need to apply the best-laid-plans theory to that. There are a million different things that could happen between now and then that could throw the whole situation into another round of chaos.

From the beginning, stateside Toyota officials have maintained that Blue Springs, scheduled to begin making Corollas this fall, would not be affected by what’s happened in Japan. About 20 percent of the parts Blue Springs workers will use to make the Corolla come from Japan.

The latest production schedule does not change that, according to a Blue Springs spokesperson.

The current situation is having no impact on Toyota Mississippi’s construction progress or the planned start of production this fall,” Emily Holland wrote in an email Monday morning. ”We are on schedule and looking forward to rolling a car off the line in a few months.”

Again, apply the best-laid-plans theory. In the three years Magnolia Marketplace has covered Toyota, it’s been our experience that the company keeps a stiff upper lip in situations like this, right up to the announcement to the contrary (the original delay of the plant’s opening springs to mind as a good example). We’re not saying that will happen here. In fact, everything points toward it not happening.

Just something we’ll be keeping an eye on over the summer.

Additions coming to Nissan’s Canton plant (Updated)

April 20th, 2011 2 comments

There was some Canton-related news at Wednesday’s New York International Auto Show.

To make room for a new Infiniti luxury crossover and the electric LEAF sedan at its Smyrna, Tenn, plant, Nissan will shift production of the Xterra SUV and Frontier pickup models to Canton.

The production shifts are part of Nissan’s overall build-up of its North American manufacturing capacity. Currently, 69 percent of Nissan vehicles are made domestically. By 2015, that will increase to 85 percent. A press release Nissan issued Wednesday morning said production of the LEAF would begin in Smyrna by the end of 2012, so it follows that Canton would start to make the Xterra and Frontier around then.

The Xterra and the Frontier are the second and third additions to Canton’s portfolio in the past year. Last year, Canton started making the NV Commercial Van, which was the company’s first North American foray into the light commercial vehicle market.

“With today’s announcements, we remain on track to localize our manufacturing base around the world – especially in the Americas,” Nissan Americas chairman Carlos Tavares said in the press release. ”This drive for balance and flexibility across our operations is essential to support our growth plans in the region.”

 

UPDATE: Gov. Haley Barbour and MDA executive director Leland Speed have just released a statement on the Nissan news. The pertinent language:

 

“I am thrilled Nissan officials are adding two models to the production line-up at their Canton facility as a result of their plans to increase production in North America,” Barbour said. “This decision is a testament to high quality work performed by the employees in Canton. I congratulate them.”
 
The Mississippi Development Authority worked closely with the company to help facilitate the project. The agency provided assistance through the Momentum Mississippi Incentives and Job Protection Grant programs, as well as assistance for training and infrastructure improvements.
 
“Nissan has been a valued member of Mississippi’s corporate community for more than a decade, and the company’s continued investment in its Canton plant speaks volumes of Nissan’s confidence in its skilled Mississippi workforce,” said Speed. “I am proud of the strong partnership we have forged with Nissan over the years and am pleased we were able to provide assistance for this project.”

 

In pursuit of Google, Oxford presses on

April 12th, 2011 No comments

On March 30, Google announced that it would deploy its super-fast, next-generation broadband network in Kansas City, Kan.

The announcement came a year after applications started coming in from cities and towns across the U.S. that hoped to be the site for the broadband experiment. Google said it received about 1,100 applications.

One came from Oxford, where local attorney Stewart Rutledge led the effort to land Google’s grand prize.

Magnolia Marketplace spoke with Rutledge Monday morning. The gist of the conversation was this: There isn’t much clarity as to whether Kansas City will be the only winner. Google could set up shop in another applicant city, or it could put all its 1Gbps eggs in Kansas City’s basket.

“The original campaign was very ambiguous,” Rutledge said. “It definitely led the public to believe there would be at least one winner, and it heavily implied there would be multiple winners.”

For its part, Google isn’t saying one way or another. Two weeks before the Kansas City news broke, Rutledge wrote a letter to Google seeking to gain a little clarity about a timetable for announcing a winner, and if there would be one or multiple winners. The letter, which has gone unanswered, also made the case for Oxford.

“Google said they wanted this to reach people who were underserved when it came to broadband access,” he said. “Well, if you go 10 miles from Oxford in either direction, you’ll find 10,000 people who fit into that category. Of course, they have every right to do what they want. I would liken it to a grant program with less clear guidelines.”

For now, Rutledge said he and city officials will maintain as much communication with Google as possible, and hope for the best. Rutledge’s work hasn’t cost Oxford anything. He’s worked on this for free.

“We want to maintain the relationship, even though it’s been a one-way relationship so far,” Rutledge said. “We certainly haven’t let it die.”

Burton: No political favoritism behind budget bill language

April 4th, 2011 1 comment

Monday morning, Rep. Bobby Moak, D-Bogue Chitto, got a text message from Sen. Terry Burton, R-Newton, in which Newton asked Moak to allow the conference report for House Bill 1095 to clear the House, which would have sent it to Gov. Haley Barbour’s desk to await his signature. The text, Moak said, seemed odd because Moak had done no work on the bill. He wasn’t the committee chair that sent it to the floor, and he wasn’t one of the conferees appointed to hash it out.

HB 1095 is a bill that revises actual revenue numbers for fiscal year 2011 for several state agencies, including the Department of Public Safety and the Division of Medicaid. Language inserted either late last week or over the weekend, however, spells out the job description and educational requirements of the deputy director of administration of the Division of Medicaid. The educational requirements say a candidate “shall have at least five years’ experience in a health-related field and/or shall possess a special knowledge of Medicaid as pertaining to the State of Mississippi.  The Deputy Director of Administration may perform those duties of the executive director that the executive director has not expressly retained for himself.” The bill stipulates that the deputy director of administration would serve at the will and pleasure of the governor, and would be appointed by the governor.

 Moak, along with several other House Democrats and at least one Republican, opposed that language in the bill, saying it had been inserted too late in the process to property evaluate, and that it appeared to intend for a specific person to become the deputy director of administration at the Division of Medicaid.

“When several of us found out about it (over the weekend), that was the first time we had seen it,” Moak said. “We were really concerned.”

And when Moak got the text message from Burton in which Burton encouraged Moak to support the bill as a whole, Moak said it “kind of raised my eyebrows. I had no conversations with Burton about this beforehand. So somebody told him I was against it. That’s my logical rationale.”

Magnolia Marketplace called Burton to get his reaction to what Moak had told us, and to ask him if he was interested in becoming the deputy director of administration at the Division of Medicaid.

“I’ve qualified to run for re-election,” he told us. In that conversation, he denied having contacted any House member to encourage them to support the bill.

A few minutes after that, we called Moak back, who told us that he had received another text message from Burton, this one asking Moak to delete any text messages from Burton. Moak did not delete the messages, he said, because they could be the subject of a public records request.

Shortly after that, we called Burton again, who admitted to basically lobbying for the bill to Moak, but denied several times that he had been given assurances that the deputy director of administration job would be his.

“I supported it because the governor and the Division of Medicaid supported it,” Burton said. “If it’s for Medicaid, I’m going to support it. I’ve heard I’m going to be everything from Division of Medicaid Director to the head of the Department of Public Safety. Anything’s possible. Would I take the job if offered? I might.”

The job won’t be extended to anybody, because the language dealing with it has been taken out of the bill, after Rep. Mark Baker, R-Brandon, made a point of order on the House floor that eliminated it. The conference report for the bill, minus the deputy director of administration language, has already been approved by both chambers and will now go to Barbour.

“I just didn’t understand the need,” Baker said, when asked why he raised the point of order that ended up striking the language. “We’re spending too much as it is.”

According to House Appropriations Chairman Johnny Stringer, who was one of the House conferees, the Division of Medicaid requested the language be inserted in the bill.

Division of Medicaid spokesperson Francis Rullan did tell us in an email this morning that the deputy director of administration position already exists, and that he is under the impression that it currently requires a college degree and a CPA license. We’ve followed up our original inquiry to see if the position is currently filled, what the salary would be and if the Division of Medicaid requested the language that was struck from the bill.

Before Baker’s action, the bill would have required that a candidate either have five years’ worth of experience in the healthcare field, or an intimate knowledge of Mississippi’s Medicaid system, or both. There was no requirement a candidate hold a college degree. Burton’s bio on the Senate website lists his education as having been attained from Newton High School. No college or university is listed.

Barbour spokesperson Laura Hipp said that the governor did not request the language be inserted into the bill, “but he wouldn’t have objected to it had it made it into the final version.”