Golden Triangle reacts to Toyota-Mazda deal in Alabama

Staff Writer

While the Golden Triangle didn't land the huge Toyota-Mazda car plant project, having it as close as Huntsville gives the region a chance to land some of the plant's suppliers, especially with the network of car makers within 250 miles.

The companies formally announced Wednesday they would build a $1.6 billion plant in Limestone County outside of Huntsville. It'll eventually employ 4,000 people, earning an average of $50,000 a year, making Toyota Corollas and a new small SUV from Mazda. At peak production, it'll turn out 300,000 cars a year.

When plans for the project initially were announced, some speculated North Mississippi might have a shot since Toyota already has a plant just west of Tupelo.

But as the search grew and expanded to include the Mazda deal, Huntsville and North Carolina became the leading candidates. Toyota already has a car and truck engine plant near Huntsville.
The Huntsville site is the same one the community pitched 10 years ago to try to land the Volkswagen plant that ultimately chose Chattanooga.

Huntsville officials said the lessons they learned from that search helped them land Toyota this time.

The search originally was code named "Mitt" among site finders and then was renamed "New World" when Toyota-Mazda went public with the plans.

Columbus submitted the Infinity Megasite west of Golden Triangle Regional Airport, according to CEO Joe Higgins.

"We are proud for Huntsville," Higgins said. "We hope to get a chance at some of the supplier network."

The Golden Triangle may be better suited for suppliers because the available labor pool would better handle 300 to 500 jobs.

To service the need for 4,000 workers, the Huntsville region has a work force of more than 220,000 with 6,800 unemployed for a 3.1 percent jobless rate. Nearby areas of Decatur and Gadsden add another 110,000 to the potential labor pool.

Those numbers are far more than Clay, Oktibbeha, Lowndes and surrounding areas.

The Golden Triangle's transportation network, new "Communiversity" skills training facility now under construction along Highway 82, and available sites are added assets, site selection experts have said.

The region is at the heart of car plants, including Nissan in Canton, Mississippi, and Murfreesboro, Tennessee., Toyota in Tupelo, Mercedes-Benz between Tuscaloosa and Birmingham, Honda near Talladega, Alabama, and Kia and Hyundai near Montgomery, Alabama.

Among U.S. states, Alabama is already the fifth largest producer of cars and light trucks. The state has more than 150 major auto suppliers and 57,000 automotive manufacturing jobs, according to industry publications and the state of Alabama.

Alabama offered an incentive package of more than $370 million the Toyota-Mazda plant to build in the state. According to the Alabama Department of Commerce, the state’s offer included:

-‒ $210 million investment credit: Toyota Mazda will be able to claim a tax credit of up to 1.5 percent of the qualified capital investment expenses over the next 10 years;

-‒ $90.6 million payroll credit: The companies will get an annual cash rebate of up to 3 percent of the previous year’s gross pay roll for eligible employees for up to 10 years;

-‒ $20 million capital reimbursement: The companies will get a reimbursement for eligible capital costs;

-‒ $39.3 million sales and property tax abatement: The companies will get a reduction in sales and property taxes. That includes a $14.3 million property tax abatement over 20 years;

-‒ $20 million training center: The state has committed up to $20 million for the construction and operation of a training center;

The state has offered some road and bridge improvements around the new plan, Alabama Commerce Secretary Greg Canfield said. He added that he was uncertain of the final cost but said the improvements should total less than $20 million.