Arkansas out of the running for $1.6 billion Toyota-Mazda auto plant

by Roby Brock (roby@talkbusiness.net) 1,393 views 

The third time wasn’t the charm.

Arkansas economic officials confirmed to Talk Business & Politics on Thursday (Oct. 26) that the state is out of the running for a $1.6 billion Toyota-Mazda plant expected to employ 4,000 workers by 2021.

Earlier this summer, USA Today reported that 15 states had submitted bids for the secretive superproject which used the code name “Project Mitt.” Arkansas officials confirmed at the time that they had interest in pursuing the megadeal. However on Thursday, project leaders notified states that did not make the cut and Arkansas was apparently one of them.

“We’re disappointed to find out that Arkansas did not make the final cut for the new Toyota-Mazda automobile assembly plant,” Arkansas Economic Development Commission executive director Mike Preston told TB&P. “We hope to learn more in the coming weeks about what areas we can improve upon to increase our competitiveness for future projects. Toyota and Mazda are world class companies and we’ve enjoyed building a relationship with them over the last couple of months. We look forward to future opportunities with both companies.”

When asked if a lack of a prepared workforce — which was cited as a factor in the state’s earlier attempts to woo a Toyota factory — was a reason for this disqualification, Preston said, “It’s too early to tell, but I suspect it will likely be one of the factors.”

Arkansas made a bid in 2003 for an $800 million Toyota truck plant that went to San Antonio. In 2011, Arkansas was a runner-up for a new $961 million Toyota facility that located in Blue Springs, Miss. In both pursuits, Arkansas was considered one of the finalists for both plants, which lent speculation that familiarity would help in the most recent third effort.

There are two sites in Arkansas considered ideal for an auto factory superproject. One site is in Marion, Arkansas near Memphis; the other site is in Saline County located in central Arkansas.

Despite the latest setback, Arkansas economic officials are on a roll with Asian investment in the state. On Wednesday, Chinese-based Risever, a manufacturer of steel components for heavy equipment, announced a $20 million factory in Jonesboro, its first U.S. investment. It is the fifth Chinese company to locate in Arkansas during Gov. Asa Hutchinson’s first term.

Hutchinson, Preston and economic officials are heading to China and Japan next week to meet with a number of prospects that could result in more foreign investment in the state.

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