Toyota talk -- - UPDATED | Arkansas Blog

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Toyota talk -- - UPDATED

Posted By on Tue, Feb 27, 2007 at 2:27 PM

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Gov. Mike Beebe at a news conference this afternoon said Arkansas was in the hunt until not much more than a day before Toyota's decision that it would put a new assembly plant in Tupelo, Miss., instead of Marion, Ark. He said the clincher was Toyota's concern about air quality standards in Arkansas and the potential impact of a pending federal court case on the standards. Arkansas has worked hard on that issue, but has little control over the major source of pollution -- Memphis, truck traffic, prevailing air patterns.

(NOTE: Read on for the Elvis connection.)

Beebe also said Toyota didn't seem to place high emphasis on special state incentives, though Arkansas offered some $200 million in incentives and site improvements.

Warwick is coming with video. [UPDATE: Video posted at the Arkansas Times video blog.]

UPDATE: Roby Brock at Talk Business quotes a Toyota exec as saying the environment wasn't the issue in Arkansas. So, what was? A list of things.

Mark it down. Fair or foul, somebody is going to blame the loss of the Toyota plant on the Beebe administration's change of leadership at AEDC. That Toyota wanted to continue working with the leaders they'd been working with.

UPDATE 2: Roby Brock called to say he just got off the phone with Dennis Cuneo, the site selection consultant for Toyota. Cuneo confirmed that Marion was rejected because of environmental issues -- specifically the lawsuit Beebe cited. The EPA has the Marion site on "non-attainment" status, and apparently the EPA is about to put the Chattanooga site on "non-attainment" status as well. The only site without such a problem is Tupelo, which is why Toyota is putting its plant there.

UPDATE 3: Here's a link to the U.S. court of appeals ruling in late December that Beebe mentioned.

UPDATE 4: Ernie Dumas, in an editorial written for The Leader in North Pulaski, posits a reason why Tupelo got the nod. We don't think Garrick Feldman will mind if we can't wait until there's a link to his website to share it. Check it out on the jump. Answer to the Toyota riddle? Elvis. Read it, please. Dumas waxes lyrical.


Another automotive suitor, the relentlessly fickle Toyota Motor Corp., has spurned Arkansas and its generous dowry of tax breaks, subsidies and cheap labor. Two years ago, Toyota led Arkansas up to the altar and then fled to Toronto, Canada, where it established its seventh North American assembly plant. Yesterday, it announced that its eighth would be not at Marion, Ark., the perennial site that everyone knew would finally be the bride, but Tupelo, Miss. Two thousand people in northeastern Mississippi will get the jobs.
Tupelo, Miss.! It had not even been in the running. The sites had been narrowed to Marion and a town in western Tennessee. Toyota and the experts had all praised the Arkansas site, on land as flat a patio where east-west and north-south Interstates crossed and on the fringes of the big Memphis labor market.
What happened?, everyone will now ask. What does Tupelo have that east Arkansas doesn’t? We have cheap labor, weak unions, low taxes, eager and honest workers, and Arkansas voters amended the Constitution two years ago so that we can sink our state government deeply into debt to pay for whatever additional infrastructure a giant automaker might want. Toyota is now the world’s largest automaker, but we would have paid for the training. And Gov. Beebe is getting a $50 million tax fund to close a deal with a restive manufacturer.
Sure, Tupelo is not far away from another Toyota plant, an engine factory at Huntsville, Ala., but that offers only marginal advantages.
We have a hunch about what happened. The Japanese are supposed to value cultural accoutrements. Tupelo is famous in some quarters as one of the smallest cities (34,000) in the country with its own symphony orchestra and it has a big museum of antique automobiles, which is worth going to see. But that is not it either.
Tupelo is the birthplace of Elvis. And that isn’t all. Elton John and Bernie Taupin wrote a song about Tupelo called “Porch Swing in Tupelo.” Everyone knows Van Morrison’s song “Tupelo Honey.” John Lee Hooker recorded a blues song about a fictional flood titled “Tupelo” although the town has never been flooded. Jerry Reed, who is famous for his role in “Smokey and the Bandits,” recorded a song called “Tupelo Mississippi Flash.” Mark Knopflier’s album “Shangri-La” features a song called “Back to Tupelo.”
Finally, there’s the closing stanza of EmmyLou Harris’ song “Boy from Tupelo”:
“You don’t love me, this I know/
Don’t need a Bible to tell me so/
It’s a shame and it’s a sin/
Everything I coulda been to you/
Your last chance Texaco,/
Your sweetheart of the rodeo,/
A Juliet to your Romeo,/
The border you cross into Mexico/
I’ll never understand why or how/
Oh, but baby it’s too late now/
Just ask the boy from Tupelo/
He’s the king and he oughta know.”
In Tokyo, they have never heard a song about Marion, Arkansas If we’re going to land jobs, we’ve got to get to work.

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