Welcome to Part 2 of our new, three-part miniseries, Site Selection Stories: Toyota Mazda. We’re taking you behind the before, during and after of Toyota Mazda’s historic, $1.6-billion investment in a new auto plant in Huntsville, Alabama. Meet the key players:
- Incentives expert Meredith O’Connor
- Site selection pro Trevor Ragsdale
- Industrial innovator Kris Bjorson
- Research guru Christian Beaudoin
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Only six weeks to traverse half the country. How did we decide which cities would make our itinerary? Labor. Beyond sheer size of local workforces, Toyota Mazda were hyper-focused on labor composition, most notably education and engineering capabilities. With Industry 4.0 here to stay, carmakers and their employees will need to embrace advanced manufacturing’s automation and efficiencies to thrive in tomorrow’s dynamic production environment.
By approaching labor analysis with this future-focused lens, we quickly narrowed the list of sites to visit and hit the ground running. Knowing that Toyota Mazda value feet on the ground and a firm handshake as much as detailed data, we created a multi-state tour that dug into the live/work/play of each environment. From site walks to helicopter flyovers to stakeholder interviews, we completely immersed ourselves in each site.
The key to surviving such a marathon trip was dividing and conquering. While some of us facilitated Toyota Mazda executives’ high-level meetings with government officials, others led a team of engineers on a deep dive into site specifics and logistics. And engineers are not impressed by sales pitches. If states couldn’t tell us, specifically, how they planned to jump hurdles like land assemblage, utilities, easements and air rights, they risked elimination. Our timeline had no room for unrealistic plans.
While the site’s physical characteristics were vetted, we interviewed HR directors at large employers to uncover the true local operating climate. From there, it all boiled down to livability, something on which Toyota Mazda refused to compromise. If executives and team members alike couldn’t relocate there and feel welcome and comfortable culturally, a site lost critical points.
Playing out “a day in the life” across the remaining handful of sites, we looked for Japanese Saturday schools, shopped at international grocery stores, ate at Japanese restaurants and visited local schools training the workforce of the future. Huntsville won the day because they were ready, willing and able. The site showed years of thoughtful preparation and the city had ample advanced manufacturing expertise. Rather than selling us a dream, they sold us a bold, proven reality with historical precedent.
For our next installment, we’re looking at long-term implications. A project like this is a game changer for the winning city and state, not to mention the future of U.S. manufacturing itself. We’ll break down what’s next for everyone involved and share some funny memories along the way. Don’t touch that dial.