Toyota Said To Narrow New Plant Location To Arkansas, Tennesee

Automaker could make final decision next month.

LITTLE ROCK (AP) - Toyota Motor Corp. has narrowed its choices for a new automotive manufacturing plant to two - Marion in eastern Arkansas and Chattanooga, Tenn., a newspaper reported this past weekend.

The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette cited three unnamed sources the paper said were familiar with the Japanese carmaker's expansion plans. One source said Toyota could choose a location in the next month.

Previous news reports have said the company was considering the Marion and Tennessee sites as well as a location in Crockett County, Tenn., and another site in North Carolina.

Daniel Sieger, spokesman for Toyota in Erlanger, Ky., would only say that Toyota was studying expansion in North America and was researching sites.

Four years ago, the 1,750-acre site near Marion was one of two finalists for Toyota's Tundra pickup plant. Toyota selected San Antonio for the factory, and began production in November. Kay Brockwell, economic development director for Marion, said of the city being a finalist: ''I hope that's true.'' She declined to comment further.

Mitch Chandler, a spokesman for the Arkansas Department of Economic Development, would only say Saturday that state officials believe Marion is the best site for the auto plant. He said the new administration under Gov. Mike Beebe has made the prospect a priority and he noted that the federal Labor Department recently awarded $5.1 million to train workers in eastern Arkansas.

''We're being very aggressive right now in marketing this,'' Chandler said.

The Toyota plant would be its eighth in North America. The company was the third-largest U.S. auto manufacturer last year, passing DaimlerChrysler. Toyota had 15.4 percent of the U.S. market last year, behind General Motors at 24.6 percent and Ford at 17.5 percent.

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