Japanese newspaper says Toyota to build assembly plant in Mississippi

Published 6:43 pm Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Gov. Haley Barbour plans to announce Tuesday that Toyota Motor Corp. will build a manufacturing plant in northeast Mississippi, a person familiar with the topic of the news conference said, speaking on condition of anonymity because no announcement had yet been made.

The Nikkei, a Japanese business newspaper, said on its Web site Monday that Toyota had picked Mississippi for an $880 million sports utility vehicle plant.

Barbour spokesman Pete Smith, asked if the announcement involved Toyota, responded: “We’re not saying anything about it.” Daniel Sieger, spokesman for Toyota’s North American manufacturing division, said there was “nothing to announce at this moment.”

Mississippi Development Authority officials did not immediately return calls for comment.

In Tokyo, where the carmaker is based, spokesman Paul Nolasco said, “Nothing has been decided about a factory. We will make an announcement once a decision has been made.”

Nissan Motor Corp. opened an assembly plant north of Jackson in 2003. The 4,000-employee plant produced about 278,000 vehicles last year.

Officials in three northeast Mississippi counties — Pontotoc, Lee and Union — have been trying to market a 1,700-acre site as a possible location for an auto manufacturing plant.

The site, nicknamed “Wellspring,” is about 10 miles northwest of Tupelo. It’s next to U.S. 78, a federal highway that’s scheduled to be designated as Interstate 22.

Promoters say northeast Mississippi, with a mostly nonunion labor force, could be attractive to car makers as they expand in the South.

Officials in Tennessee and Arkansas also are trying to attract the Toyota plant.

The Commercial Appeal newspaper in Memphis, Tenn., reported Monday that representatives from Toyota notified Arkansas and Tennessee officials that Marion, Ark., and Chattanooga, Tenn., have been eliminated from consideration.

Mississippi, Arkansas and Tennessee have been in a stiff economic development competition to land the plant, which could turn out about 200,000 vehicles a year starting in 2009, according to the Memphis newspaper.

Marion, Tupelo and Chattanooga were all considered finalists for the $1 billion-plus project. Air quality problems in and around Marion and Chattanooga opened the door for Tupelo, which made a late push, the report said.

Barbour’s economic development news conference is in Tupelo, and it’s occurring on the same day that Jackson attorney John Arthur Eaves Jr., a Democrat, is starting a two-day tour to announce his candidacy for governor. Republican Barbour is running for re-election, and Feb. 12, the same day he started his announcement tour, Eaves filed papers to qualify for the election.

The office of Sen. Trent Lott, R-Miss., said the senator would be in Tupelo on Tuesday but gave no additional information.