MONTGOMERY, AL (WSFA) - Gov. Kay Ivey, seizing on the state's growing automotive sector, is in Japan this week for what her office calls "high-level meetings" with Toyota, Mazda, and Honda automotive executives.
Ivey and a small team of Alabama economic development specialists made the trek to Tokyo Tuesday.
"The auto industry has been a key driver of economic growth in Alabama for two decades, and we want to make sure we're positioned to see that growth accelerate in coming years," Ivey said. "It's important that we work closely with these automakers to ensure they thrive in Alabama, because that will bring more jobs and investment to the state."
The Japan mission comes as the Mazda Toyota Manufacturing USA joint venture partnership is beginning to move forward with plans for a $1.6 billion assembly plant in Huntsville that will employ 4,000 people and spawn a significant network of suppliers.
The plant, announced in January, will be just 14 miles from a Toyota engine plant that has nearly 1,400 workers after multiple expansions.
Discussions with Mazda and Toyota executives will focus on moving the assembly plant project forward, according to Secretary of the Alabama Department of Commerce, Greg Canfield. Additionally, they'll discuss how their supply chain can be filled leading up to a 2021 production launch.
"While we have a longstanding relationship with Toyota, we're still developing bonds with Mazda, which has no manufacturing presence in the U.S.," Canfield said. "We can use our extensive experience in assisting automakers expand their footprint to help the company build out a productive and efficient operation in Alabama."
Ivey and Canfield will be joined in the Toyota/Mazda meetings by others including Huntsville Mayor Tommy Battle, who is also challenging Ivey for the GOP's nomination for governor in June, as well as Tennessee Valley Authority CEO Bill Johnson, Chip Cherry, president and CEO of the Huntsville/Madison Chamber of Commerce, and several other members of Ivey's staff.
Also of priority is a meeting with Honda executives, though it won't include the Huntsville representatives. Honda owns a $2.6 billion assembly plant in Talladega County that employs 4,500 full-time workers. The company announced an $85 million expansion in early 2017.
Canfield said the meeting with Honda is meant to reinforce Alabama's strong relationship with the automaker and discuss how the state can support the facility's new leadership and future growth plans.
"Honda is a very important member of the Alabama automotive manufacturing family, and we're committed to working closely with this great company as it pursues new levels of success at its Talladega County operation," he said.
Before returning home Thursday, the Alabama delegation will visit the U.S. Embassy in Tokyo to discuss Japan's business climate and trade developments with Ambassador Bill Hagerty. ?