Mississippi Picks Up Toyota's 'TAB'

Company building $180 million Toyota Auto Body facility to supply Mississippi's new Highlander SUV assembly plant.

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) - Toyota Auto Body Co., Ltd. will build its first U.S. facility in north Mississippi to supply the automaker's new assembly plant that begins production in the state in 2010, officials said Thursday.

The $180 million plant, to be named Auto Parts Manufacturing Mississippi Inc., will employ about 260 workers and also begins production in 2010, Gov. Haley Barbour said.

The facility will provide stamped parts, body weld parts and plastic parts to the new Toyota plant and will be incorporated in Mississippi next month.

Toyota Auto Body, based in Kariya-city, Japan, is part of the Toyota Group of Companies and manufactures auto and special vehicle bodies and parts. TAB assembles various vehicles for Toyota, including the Prius, Land Cruiser and Lexus LX470. It has nearly 13,500 employees globally.

''This is the very first time that TAB has set up shop in the U.S. They have some plants in the Far East and Thailand,'' said Dennis Cuneo, a consultant for TAB and a former Toyota executive.

Cuneo said the availability of Mississippi's skilled work force was one of the reasons it was selected. He cited furniture plant employees who have lost jobs as the area's furniture industry has declined.

''I don't know if you've ever visited a furniture plant, but there's a strong work ethic in those plants,'' Cuneo told The Associated Press in a telephone interview.

Toyota Motor Corp. in February announced that it would build a $1.3 billion assembly plant on a 1,700 acre site at Blue Springs in northeast Mississippi to manufacture its Highlander sport utility vehicle.

''We think it will be the first of a number of suppliers associated with Toyota because the southern automotive manufacturing zone has moved south and west so that we're right in the middle of it now in Mississippi,'' Barbour said Thursday after giving a political speech at the Neshoba County Fair.

Cuneo said a site for the supplier plant hasn't been selected, but several locations were being considered. He said the site will be within a 25-mile radius of the Toyota plant.

Barbour traveled to Japan earlier this month with hopes of luring Toyota suppliers to the state. Cuneo said Barbour's visit ''accelerated the decision'' to locate a TAB plant in Mississippi.

State Rep. Steve Holland, D-Plantersville, who was among the lawmakers who approved an incentives package earlier this year to secure the Toyota plant, said news of the supplier is welcomed in an area that has been hit by a loss of manufacturing jobs over the years.

''Anytime you land a mega-plant like Toyota, the branches of the tree grow ever so fast. We're elated about Toyota, and we're elated about the suppliers that will follow,'' Holland said.

The Toyota plant will be the second automaker to locate in the state. Nissan Motor Corp. opened its assembly plant north of Jackson in 2003. The 4,000-employee plant produced about 278,000 vehicles last year.


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