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Back in business

After announcing no immediate plans to finish the Blue Springs plant in 2009, Toyota made amends in 2010 with plan to open

After about 18 months in recession-imposed limbo, Toyota announced in June that it was resuming preparations to open its facility in Blue Springs (“Toyota resumes prepping for Blue Springs plant,” MBJ June 17). Toyota hopes to have the plant, which was announced in Feb. 2007 but put on hold indefinitely in early 2009, operational in the fall of 2011.

It will not produce the Prius hybrid. Instead, the plant will produce the compact Corolla, and will have the capacity to make 150,000 of them per year, according to Toyota officials.

Blue Springs was originally scheduled to open this year, but the company announced in late 2008 that it was suspending those plans indefinitely as the global recession crushed the automotive market. Toyota maintained for those 18 months that it had no plans to abandon Blue Springs and would eventually open it, bringing 2,000 jobs to Northeast Mississippi.

“Now that things have seemingly turned the corner we want to get back on track,” Toyota spokesperson Barbara McDaniel told the MBJ shortly after the June announcement. “It was always just a temporary hold.”

MBJ’s Feb. 15 cover story detailed many of the problems Toyota was having prior to re-stating its commitment to Blue Springs and Northeast Mississippi.

MBJ’s Feb. 15 cover story detailed many of the problems Toyota was having prior to re-stating its commitment to Blue Springs and Northeast Mississippi.

McDaniel said that since the facility will build the Corolla and not the Prius, the plant can open more quickly because the Corolla was built in the U.S. before at Toyota’s plant in Northern California that was a joint venture with General Motors. Toyota shuttered the plant when GM had to pull out of it as part of its bankruptcy filing and subsequent government rescue.

Randy Kelley heads the Three Rivers Planning and Development District, which oversaw the construction of the facility.

“I’m doing wonderful,” Kelley said in June. Kelley said Toyota never tried to crawfish on its commitment to get Blue Springs up and running.

“They have been so solid as far as doing what they said they were going to,” he said.

The announcement validated the talking points Toyota and state officials adopted during the 18 months of uncertainty.

The plant had gone through several phases of transition since it was first announced in 2007. At first, Toyota planned to build the Highlander crossover sport utility vehicle. In the summer of 2008, when gas prices averaged almost $4 a gallon, those plans changed. Instead of the Highlander, Blue Springs would produce the Prius hybrid.

Only a few weeks before the official restarting of the plant did the Corolla start to emerge. The Corolla is the best-selling compact sedan of the past two decades. Itawamba Community College is currently training potential Toyota employees at its training center a few miles from the Blue Springs plant. To go with the 2,000 jobs at the facility, supplier and spinoff jobs are expected to push the total job-creation number above 4,000.

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