There are new jobs and new hope in Blue Springs, Mississippi as 1,250 employees are building test cars in a new Toyota factory that was brought to the state with the help of Governor Haley Barbour. Current plans include hiring 280 more workers in the upcoming year. In an area of the country hit hard by the recession, a large employer — that builds all of its U.S. facilities with union labor under Project Labor Agreements — setting up shop in town can greatly change the outlook of a region and stimulate the local economy. According to WXVT, the Toyota plant is doing just that.
“It’s a Godsend to us,” said Mayor Jack Reed Jr. of Tupelo, the biggest city near the facility with 34,500 residents. “People around here certainly have a little more bounce in our steps now.”
The stories of individual workers who have struggled to get by as North Mississippi became a victim of the global economic downturn are inspiring. WXVT interviewed Cassius Perry, a father of three who studied to be a barber but had to take a job with a salvage company to make ends meet.
“It changed my whole life around. I was struggling before I got this job. It made a difference for me, my family, my kids and even my church. I can pay tithing now,” said Perry, 22. “The benefits make the difference. I don’t want to be 30 and stacked up in medical debt.”
The Blue Springs plant follows the success model of another Toyota plant, the Georgetown, KY location built in the 1980’s. That facility revitalized the economy of the region and the steady employment allowed small businesses in the area to thrive. In a telephone interview with WXVT Governor Barbour said of Georgetown:
“It literally changed that entire region of the state. It started with only a couple of thousand jobs and now has well over 5,000 jobs,” Barbour said.”
The Mayor of Georgetown said of the effect that Toyota has had on his town.
Georgetown Mayor Everette Varney said the Toyota plant has spurred steady growth in the Kentucky city since it was announced in 1985. The city’s population has nearly tripled since 1990 to 29,000 people, according to the U.S. Census.
“Even in the downturn in the economy we experienced growth. Toyota, I mean, we just exploded,” Varney said. “They have been tremendous for this city.”
According to Mississippi Business Journal, over 41,000 people have applied for the new positions at the Toyota plant. The plant has been good for local businesses that have seen increased sales as more and more people begin careers at Toyota and have “disposable” income.
In nearby Sherman, Red and Phyliss Moore watched business boom at their Big R Drive-in restaurant while the plant was under construction. They opened a second restaurant to handle the overflow of customers, mainly construction workers.
The increase of people to the region has put an increased burden on infrastructure, both roads and schools, a problem Toyota has donated $50 million to help deal with:
Toyota has committed $50 million to education in the three surrounding counties.
At East Union Attendance Center a few miles from the plant, where there are about 830 students from kindergarten to 12th grade, there’s already been a slight increase in enrollment.
“We try to use that as a motivational factor to let students know about opportunities here,” said East Union Principal Ray Kennedy.
This kind of partnership between the private sector and the local community is crucial to a longstanding relationship between incoming businesses and the residents of the region, providing a much needed reminder that it doesn’t always have to be Us vs. Them.