By JEFF AMY
JACKSON, Miss. (AP) - Toyota Motor Corp. announced Thursday that it will invest $170 million and add 400 jobs at its Mississippi assembly plant as it shifts some production of the Corolla sedan from Canada.
The company said it will retool the Blue Springs plant beginning later this year to make its next-generation Corolla sedan. Such changeovers are frequent at auto plants, but this one will also increase the plant's capacity.
Spokeswoman Kathryn Ragsdale said Toyota now can make 170,000 vehicles yearly at the northeast Mississippi plant. Ragsdale couldn't say how much capacity would increase after production lines are replaced.
The spending brings Toyota's total investment in Mississippi to $1.16 billion. Although Corolla sales are declining right now, Ragsdale said the company believes a 2020 redesign will boost sales. More importantly, the company is pulling Corolla production from its Cambridge, Ontario, plant to build more RAV4 SUVs there.
Toyota had planned to shift Corolla production to Mexico, but then decided to build pickups there, leaving Blue Springs and a new plant that Toyota and Mazda are jointly building in Huntsville, Alabama, as the sites for North American Corolla production.
"The world is looking forward to these additional Corollas," Gov, Phil Bryant told a crowd at the plant. "They're looking forward to this 2020 platform, and we want to make sure we're providing every auto they need."
Bryant, a Republican, also said he hoped Mississippi would be able to attract more automotive suppliers to serve Blue Springs and the Huntsville plant.
The factory, which has 2,000 workers now, began production in 2011. Part of the investment involves overhauling it to accommodate Toyota's New Global Architecture, an engineering system that allows Toyota to share certain parts and components among several vehicles and quickly shift assembly lines to make more popular vehicles.
"The Toyota New Global Architecture allows us to completely change how we design and produce vehicles," said Sean Suggs, president of Toyota Motor Manufacturing Mississippi.
Suggs said the 400 new assembly workers are being hired by contract labor agency ResourceMFG over the next year. They'll make about $31,000 yearly to start, Ragsdale said. She said that after two years or more, those workers are likely to be offered a chance to become direct Toyota employees. Toyota's 1,500 direct employees have wages between $36,600 and $53,600.
State officials say the Japanese automaker will get incentives including property tax breaks and rebates on worker income taxes. However, those worker income tax rebates are only available for workers making above $41,000 a year, meaning some employees could make too little for Toyota to qualify, at least for part of the 10-year window. Under state law, Toyota gets a two-thirds break on its property taxes for 10 years on new investments. Such a break will probably be worth millions. State and local governments have already given Toyota more than $325 million in grants and tax breaks.
Also Thursday, Toyota unveiled the design for a $10 million visitor and training center that it announced last year. Toyota has said it will invest $10 billion in United States facilities in the five years ending in 2022 and said Thursday that it is now $4.3 billion into that commitment.