BLUE SPRINGS — At the “line-off” ceremony Thursday at the massive Toyota facility in Blue Springs, everybody — and I mean everybody — who spoke offered the same reason we were there in the first place: Northeast Mississippi’s workforce is spectacularly skilled.
It’s hard to argue with that. This region was the furniture manufacturing capitol of the state before a lot of those jobs went overseas early in the 21st Century. People here are good at building stuff. Now 2,000 of those people will play some role in building the Corolla.
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Regular readers know that the hill country was where I was born and raised, and that it’s still my home, even though I live and work in Jackson. So I’m biased, sure, but what I’m about to tell you didn’t come from me. It came from the fellow I sat next to on the media bus once the festivities ended: The people here are the nicest in the world, and it’s not even close.
And he would know. I didn’t catch his name, but he was a correspondent for Al-Jazeera English. He was originally from the United Kingdom, had recently left the BBC, and was now stationed out of Miami.
So when he says the people in Northeast Mississippi are the nicest in the world, it means something. “They’re just over the moon,” he said. He had spent the two days prior to Thursday talking to folks at greasy spoons, gas stations, their homes, anywhere he could find somebody who had an opinion about Toyota. “I wish my work would bring me here more often,” he said.
And that’s what we want people to say about us, right? That we’re nice and we’re good at building stuff. Not just any kind of stuff, but advanced machines like the 10th generation Toyota Corolla, which is the best-selling car in the world.
That’s what Akio Toyoda, whose grandfather started Toyota, said.
“We’re here because of the workforce,”he hammered out in broken English.
“Mississippi’s workforce is the best there is,” Toyota Mississippi President Masafumi Hamaguchi managed to say in even more broken English.
“The first thing Toyota told us when they picked us was that it was because of the workforce,” Gov. Haley Barbour said in his signature drawl.
No matter the style of the language, the message is the same.
That doesn’t mean everything will be perfect, either. If the recession double dips and the economy takes another major tumble, demand for new cars will drop just like it did in 2008 and 2009. That will mean hard decisions have to be made at every Toyota manufacturing plant. A drop in demand is the single reason why Thursday didn’t happen in 2010 instead of 2011.
There could be recalls and quality crises or any number of things. It happens.
But that’s for then. Thursday was a good day in Northeast Mississippi, and the people up here earned it.