July 22, 2004 -- Posted at 8:45 p.m. CDT
MARION, AR - An air-conditioned tent on the edge of a 160 acre site was the setting for the groundbreaking ceremony for an automobile parts plant at Marion. Farmland and tractors still dominate much of the landscape around the land. Workers in large machines have been moving dirt on the property for weeks. Three men attending the ceremony remember how recently cotton and soybeans were grown on the land.
Robert Tate, who used to pick cotton on the property, said "I think this is great. I think this is really great. Right here where we're standing here, nothing used to be raised here but beans and cotton."
Since the 1870s, the soil has belonged to the Jackson Family. Birdel Jackson, III, whose family sold the land to Hino Motors, said, "I'm the first generation that's not a farmer, but the land provided an education for me."
Jackson watched Hino Motors leaders officially turn over the land that became the company's in May of 2004. Jackson explained, "I thought about my great-great grandfather who came and acquired this land right after slaves were freed."
Hino officials started looking for property in the spring of 2003. The initial production at the 400,000 square feet plant will focus on parts and components for Toyota vehicles. The company's chairman said development of the $160 million project in the Arkansas Delta marks its commitment to expanded operations in the United States, but stopped short of saying a vehicle manufacturing sight will be built here.
Tadaaki Jagawa, Chairman of the Board, Hino Motors, Ltd., explained through an interpreter, "If sales of Toyota trucks increases dramatically, or if sales of Hino brand trucks sales goes up here, then we'll think about the expansion."
Governor Huckabee said Hino's plant marks the beginning of a transition in a region that has long been economically depressed. The company's first wholly owned North American manufacturing facility is located in the Railport Industrial Park. Growth potential at the sight was what attracted them to it. It's near the Mississippi River, 2 interstates, a large rail yard and a huge cargo airport.
Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee added, "All in this very same area. This is one of the most logistically advantageous places in America to build a manufacturing facility."
Approximately 280 residents will be employed in the plants first year of operation. Parts should start rolling off of the assembly line in the fall of 2006.