Groundbreaking for $1.6 Billion Mazda Toyota Automotive Assembly Plant in Limestone County

From the News Courier Story by Adam Smith November 16, 2018:

As “Sweet Home Alabama” played in the background, a yellow robotic arm grasping a shovel officially broke ground on the $1.6 billion Mazda Toyota Manufacturing U.S.A. site Friday.

When complete, the new plant, located east of Greenbrier Parkway and north of Old Highway 20, will produce an estimated 300,000 vehicles per year. Specifically, the plant will produce the Toyota Corolla and a new yet-to-be-revealed Mazda crossover vehicle.

It will also employ 4,000 people, which does not include workers needed for related suppliers likely to put down roots in the Tennessee Valley.

  

“I wish we could begin production tomorrow,” said Masahi Aihara, president of Mazda Toyota Manufacturing. “But I understand we have a little bit of work to do before we can begin production; just a little bit.”

Kiyotaka Shobuda, Mazda’s senior managing executive officer, said he was proud to be working with Toyota because the two companies share a bond of pride in manufacturing.

“We are proud to be breaking ground on a new ‘home’ here in Huntsville — a city that believes in the possibilities of technology and manufacturing, and has striven to realize mankind’s greatest dream,” he said.

Work to grade the 2,500-acre site has been underway for the last several months. Physical construction of the 3.3-million-square-foot facility will begin once site work is complete. The site is so large, it could fit nearly 60 football fields or 18.43 Walmart supercenters.

Building a workforce

While there has been significant heavy lifting done to get the plant to Huntsville, there is much to do that doesn’t include construction. To recruit and train 4,000 employees, Mazda Toyota Manufacturing will work with Alabama Industrial Development Training.

Mark Brazeal, vice president of administration for Mazda Toyota Manufacturing U.S.A., said AIDT would use its “broad workforce development network,” which includes high schools, career technical centers and community colleges. To that end, MTM on Friday donated $750,000 to support STEM-related programs. A check for $500,000 was presented to the Huntsville/Madison County Chamber Foundation for the creation of a new online platform to help highlight careers in manufacturing to students, build skills and connect job seekers to opportunities.

Six school systems, including Limestone County Schools and Madison City Schools, will split a donation of $250,000. The money is to be used for STEM or technical education programs aligned with advanced manufacturing. Other school systems to receive money are Huntsville City Schools, Madison County Schools, Decatur City Schools and Morgan County Schools.

“We’re talking about 4,000 employees, and those will come from North Alabama. That was one of the reasons for the donations today,” said Brazeal, who expressed confidence the project would be able to recruit the target number of workers. “From Calhoun to Drake State and Northwest Shoals to Wallace, we’ve got community colleges all over Alabama. … It’s going to take the North Alabama village to get us up and running, but we have confidence we have (the support).”

Order of operations

Brazeal hoped MTM could start moving into the new plant by some time in 2020. He said that would be followed by production trials leading up to the start of official production in January 2021.

James Lentz, chief executive officer for Toyota Motor North America Inc., said supervisors are generally hired first and then trained so they can train employees who will work on the line. The supervisors are generally hired about a year before production begins.

The first product to be manufactured at the plant will be the Toyota Corolla, which is currently manufactured in Canada. The plant will train a first shift to work on the vehicle and will add a second shift over time.

By summer of 2021, Brazeal said, the company hopes to begin manufacturing the Mazda crossover vehicle. He said two shifts would also be used for that vehicle, though it may be a staggered start.

Lentz said the Corolla was chosen to be manufactured in Huntsville because it was “quite a ways away” from a major supplier in Mississippi.

“Our plant was to move production around to get the Corolla-based vehicles in the same overall geographic region,” he said. “We’ve been here 17 years with the engine plant. There’s a great workforce here, so this is the place — when we looked at the variables — we wanted to be (in Huntsville).”

When production on the Corolla begins, officials said it would still rely heavily on the Mississippi-based supplier. By the time the plant is producing a second generation of the newly designed vehicle, officials speculated there would be four to five suppliers in the Huntsville area dedicated to making parts for the vehicle.

“On-site suppliers will be announced soon,” Brazeal said. “We needed to have this ceremony and we’re working on collaboration with the suppliers. … We’re in the final stages of discussions with suppliers.”

He said the total number of suppliers and how many employees they may hire “is still a work in progress.”

When asked if the Toyota engine manufacturing plant in Huntsville may one day build engines for the Corolla, Brazeal said it’s not out of the realm of possibility.

“We have a very successful engine plant that’s been in this community for 16 or 17 years,” he said. “It’s feasible they could make the engine. With a big part like that, you’re better off being able to source it closely. It’s certainly my dream to make the engine here.”

Spirit of cooperation

A number of state and local officials joined representatives from the automakers at the event. The officials all praised the spirit of community and regional cooperation to make the project a reality.

Gov. Kay Ivey, fresh off her election victory, said the plant marked a new chapter in Alabama.

“When companies choose to be made in Alabama, they certainly expect excellence,” she said. “Mazda, welcome to Alabama. I can promise you you’ll be glad you chose to do business in Alabama. Toyota Manufacturing represents what we’re all about here in Alabama — providing opportunities for our people, being innovative and finding success when we work together. It’s truly an exciting day for the great state of Alabama.”

U.S. Sen. Doug Jones said when he was growing up in Fairfield, the “big three” car companies were all in Detroit.

“I never dreamed beginning in the 1990s Alabama would become one of the leading automobile makers in the world and the third-largest in exports, which is incredibly important to our economy,” he said.

Huntsville Mayor Tommy Battle said there were many people who worked behind the scenes to make the project a reality, from administrative staff in his office to the landowners.

“Today is the day we put a shovel to dirt on Huntsville’s growth into the automotive industry, or what is being called the mobility industry,” he said. “We’re here today to start building.”

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