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Nissan rolls new minivan off Canton production line

CANTON — In the 1989 film “Field of Dreams,” an Iowa farmer builds a baseball diamond in the middle of a cornfield after hearing the mysterious words: “If you build it, he will come.” It works, and the baseball diamond becomes an instant — and life-changing — success.

Elected officials, Nissan company executives and employees, and the people of Mississippi are hoping that the same will be true for Nissan North America’s Canton manufacturing facility, built on 1,400 acres of what was once mostly a cotton field. The complex, which was completed in just 25 months, cost approximately $1.4 billion and currently employs 2,042. In the future it will employ more than 5,000.

“To me it happened so fast,” said Fred Esco, the mayor of the City of Canton at the May 27 dedication ceremony of the Canton plant. Esco attended the ceremony, along with more than 2,000 employees and guests, including top Nissan international executives, Gov. Ronnie Musgrove, U.S. Sen. Thad Cochran, U.S. Sen. Trent Lott and other elected officials.

Esco called the roll off of the first Quest minivan produced by the factory a “history making occasion.” The 3.5 million-square-foot plant will produce 400,000 vehicles annually when at full capacity by mid-2004. In addition to the all-new Quest minivan, the plant will manufacture the full-size Titan pickup, the full-size Nissan Pathfinder Armada SUV, a full-size Infiniti SUV and the Nissan Altima sedan.

While Nissan was celebrating the company’s new assembly plant and launch of the 2004 Quest minivan, many visitors may have thought they were attending a revival. As cameras swiveled over the crowd, The Mississippi Mass Choir welcomed those who had gathered for the ceremony by singing “I Won’t Turn Back.”

Carlos Ghosn, president and CEO of Nissan Motor Company, said the revival music was appropriate. “Revival music is about looking ahead,” Ghosn said.

Dave Boyer, vice president of manufacturing at the Canton plant, said last Tuesday was the day the Nissan Canton team had been working for, and it was evident from the handshakes and warm welcomes visitors got from Nissan employees who were stationed at the entrance of the plant, to the cheers of Nissan employees at the ceremony itself. It’s a wonder the paint didn’t begin to chip off the concrete walls and steel beams considering the deafening roar of the crowd that must’ve been heard from miles around.

Musgrove said with a partner like Nissan, Mississippi is on the road to success and “reaching new heights.” Musgrove said when he and Ghosn first met, Ghosn shared his vision for Nissan, and Musgrove shared his vision for Mississippi.

“Our visions were similar, and focused on a future built on our common promise and potential,” Musgrove said. “Today, those visions have become realities.”

Cochran said the Nissan plant in Canton was the newest example of teamwork.

“Now it’s up to us to prove this company made the right choice,” Cochran said of Nissan’s decision to locate in Canton, and he had no doubt that Mississippi would live up to the challenge.

Lott was proud to have played a part in bringing Nissan to Mississippi.

“This is not the end,” Lott said. “This is only the beginning.”

Jerry Crisler, a paint technician at Nissan, spoke on behalf of the employees at the Canton plant. He said when he gets off work and goes to the grocery store he doesn’t even change out of his work clothes.

“I’m proud to work here,” Crisler said. “Thank you Nissan for letting us all be a part of this dream.”

Ghosn said he’d been looking forward to the day the Quest minivan rolled off the production line for a long time. He commended the Mississippi Congressional delegation, county, and city officials for their help in making it become a reality.

“We have come so far so fast,” Ghosn said.

Cochran, in a question and answer session following the dedication ceremony, said he knew of no other plant in the state that would have a bigger impact on the economy than Nissan.

The new Canton plant will not only change the landscape of the state, but it will also change the outlook for the people of Mississippi, Musgrove said.

“That’s the real watershed event for me,” Musgrove said.

Musgrove said the rest of the world has noticed what is happening in Mississippi.

“The rest of the world is aware of what we can do,” he said. “The world will be watching as we continue our partnership with Nissan and the pursuit of excellence together.”

The impact of the Nissan plant goes beyond the immediate jobs created at the facility and the more than 26,000 indirect jobs expected to be created as suppliers and support industries enter the state, Musgrove said.

“The business community, both in America and around the world, realize that we have something tremendous to offer, both in our people and in our commitment to new and existing industries,” Musgrove said.

Nissan and Mississippi are working together, and they stand ready to work with other industries as well, he said.

“Mississippi is open for business,” Musgrove said.


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