ATHENS, AL (WAFF)- One of Japan’s preeminent automotive suppliers is coming to Athens and bringing hundreds of jobs in the process.
The Tier 1 supplier will be supporting the massive new Mazda Toyota plant that’s under construction.
State and local officials and representatives of Toyota Boshoku America announced Wednesday at Athens City Hall that the company plans to invest over $50 million to open a manufacturing facility in Athens, creating around 400 jobs once the plant reaches full production.
The new Athens factory will produce seats for vehicles built at Mazda Toyota Manufacturing, U.S.A., Inc. (MTMUS), a joint venture assembly plant the automakers are constructing in Huntsville-annexed Limestone County.
“This is the beginning of a growing cluster of automotive suppliers associated with Mazda Toyota plant,” said Governor Kay Ivey at the event.
Toyota Boshoku is one of the first suppliers to announce plans for an Alabama facility to produce parts for MTMUS, which expects to assemble its first vehicle in 2021.
The initial phases of construction on MTMUS began in November 2018 at a 2,500-acre site in Limestone County.
The automakers plan to invest $1.6 billion in the Alabama facility, where 4,000 workers will produce 300,000 vehicles annually.
“Our site here in the city limits was very attractive to them because they’re going to be making seats for the vehicles so those seats are going to be sequenced into the assembly plant just in time. So they wanted to be close enough to be able to accomplish that but not be right on top of the plant,” said Tom Hill, president of Limestone County Economic Development.
Dr. Shuhei Toyoda, chairman of Toyota Boshoku, said when they began their search for a new site to build their production facility, they looked at many locations.
“After an extensive search, we determined that Athens, Ala., is the perfect fit. We are grateful for the assistance from the State of Alabama, City of Athens and Limestone County to make this project a reality," he said.
The Toyota Boshoku facility will be on 42 acres in the Breeding North Industrial Park on Sanderfer Road. The industrial park is south of U.S. 72 and west of U.S. 31. The company anticipates starting construction around May 1, 2019.
Greg Canfield, secretary of the Alabama Department of Commerce, says economic development teams at the state and local levels have been working hard to facilitate the formation of the supply chain for MTMUS.
“This is the first supplier in the automotive sector to locate in Athens so it’s important for Athens and Limestone County with the Mazda Toyota facility under construction, we’re going to see more opportunities like this,” Canfield said.
The industrial site includes the current location of Jimmy Gill Park on Sanderfer Road near the Hine Street intersection. Mayor Marks said the company is assisting the City of Athens in relocating the park. The late Jimmy Gill was a longtime Athens City Council member and worked with his friend David Malone to establish a city park south of U.S. 72.
City and industrial officials met with Malone and Gill’s widow, Deborah, before agreeing to relocate the park. Both said the late Jimmy Gill would have supported new jobs as long as the city could relocate the park.
Toyota Boshoku Corp., a member of the Toyota group of companies, develops and manufactures automotive interior systems and other components. Its founding company, Toyoda Boshoku, was established by the founder of Toyota group, Sakichi Toyoda in 1918.
Today, Toyota Boshoku has extensive manufacturing operations in Japan and other parts of Asia, as well as Europe and the Americas. Toyota Boshoku America, based in Erlanger, Kentucky, employs more than 11,000 people in 20 locations through the United States, Canada, Mexico, Brazil and Argentina.
The company’s U.S. manufacturing sites are in Tennessee, Illinois, Indiana, Mississippi, South Carolina and Kentucky.
Officials said the move by the company to expand to Athens is a testament to the strong workforce in North Alabama.
“It’s an exciting day for this community. This community is just thriving with economic development. It’s a great day and great to have these jobs and good workforce development coming in. I think we’re looking for the future,” said Limestone County Commission Chairman Collin Daly.
“There are so many people working behind the scenes. It’s not just one person, it’s an army of people. It’s day in, day out meeting with people and when you get it rolling, you have success,” he added.
In terms of economic growth spurred by the project, Tom Hill says general rule is that there are two to three spin-off jobs created by each manufacturing job.
“This is going to be 400 jobs so we can expect another 400-800 jobs in spin-off activity,” he explained.
Secretary Canfield said Toyota Boshoku’s decision to locate in Athens will add momentum to efforts to further build a supply chain for MTMUS.
“Alabama is blessed that we already have an established automotive sector so there are suppliers that are already embedded in Alabama which are competing for or have already entered into agreements with Mazda Toyota to provide supplies for them. But today is a great day because it is the very first in Limestone County and the City of Athens. I think you’ll have more opportunities down the road,” he added.