(AP) – Passed over for neighboring Mississippi in the hunt for a $1.3 billion auto plant, Arkansas officials said Tuesday they’re reviewing their options and will try again to lure a large industrial complex to the state.
Marion Mayor Frank Fogleman said he was disappointed his east Arkansas town won’t host a Toyota Motor Corp. plant. The company announced Tuesday it would build Highlander sport utility vehicles at a site near Tupelo, Miss.
Fogleman said he’s talking with state economic development officials about other auto companies and other industries that may be interested in building in the region.
“We’re not going to sit around and mope and be depressed,” Fogleman said. “We’re going to get busy and move forward.”
Fogleman would not say why Toyota chose Tupelo over the Arkansas site, but House Speaker Benny Petrus said he understood that air quality in the region was a factor.
The state has been monitoring the Crittenden County’s ozone levels since it was declared out-of-compliance with federal standards in 2004. Crittenden County’s air quality is affected by its proximity to Memphis, Tenn.
“That’s another reason to push for these alternative fuels and try to clean up our air,” said Petrus, D-Stuttgart.
Crittenden County was classified last year by the Environmental Protection Agency as an Economic Development Zone under the Clean Air Act.
The designation allows the county, in some cases, to follow less-restrictive air quality guidelines, state and federal officials said Tuesday.
Tuesday’s announcement in Tupelo by Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour and Toyota officials took legislative leaders by surprise. Marion, Tupelo and Chattanooga were all considered finalists, but Petrus and other legislators said they had believed reports that the choice had been narrowed to either Tennessee or Arkansas.
“They kept it pretty quiet,” Petrus said. “Everybody kept saying it was either Marion or Chattanooga, but all of a sudden Mr. Barbour shows up. I’m very disappointed that Arkansas missed this.”
A spokesman for Gov. Mike Beebe did not have any immediate comment on the Toyota announcement. The Arkansas Dept of Economic Development referred all questions to the governor’s office.
Tuesday’s announcement was the second economic development setback this month for Arkansas, which was dropped from consideration for a $3 billion steel mill.
ThyssenKrupp AG announced earlier this month that Alabama and Louisiana were finalists for a steel and stainless steel manufacturing and processing plant. The Germany company had considered building its mill near Osceola, Ark., 40 miles north of Memphis, Tenn. and near the Mississippi River and Interstate 55.
Senate President Jack Critcher said the Legislature has a chance to address some of the factors that led to Mississippi winning the site by increasing job training. Critcher said a $50 million fund proposed by Beebe to help attract new businesses or allow existing industries to expand may also be an option.
“What we need to concentrate on is not the fact that we didn’t get it, but the fact that we were in until the end,” Critcher said. “The fact that we were there and they were considering us tell us that this is a viable site.”
Fellow rumored favorite Tennessee also expressed disappointment in Toyota's decision and stressed that it would continue its drive for development.
Tennessee’s top industry recruiter and officials in Chattanooga put the best face on losing out to Tupelo, Miss., as the site for a Toyota assembly plant.
“Finishing second is not bad,” Chattanooga Mayor Ron Littlefield said Tuesday.
“The important thing is the forward momentum that has not stopped and will not stop,” the mayor said.
Gov. Phil Bredesen, who was out of the state Tuesday, issued a statement saying he was disappointed by Toyota’s decision but added, “the close proximity of the site to Tennessee has the potential to positively impact Tennesseans and the hundreds of automotive suppliers who already call our state home.”
In Washington, Jim Press, president of Toyota North America Inc., said the incentive package from Mississippi was worth $296 million, less than what Nissan received from that state. Press declined to describe the incentive packages accompanying the Tennessee and Arkansas sites.
“It wasn’t a competition for incentive packages and the size of the packages. The packages were all somewhat similar in their impact but that really wasn’t a factor in our decision,” Press said.
He also said air quality issues did not affect the Tennessee and Arkansas sites.