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Ivey leads economic development team on mission to Japan

Brandon Moseley

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Gov. Kay Ivey speaks at her first State of the State Adress on Tuesday, Jan. 9, 2018, in Montgomery, Ala. (Adam Brasher/The Auburn Plainsman)

Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey is traveling to Japan leading a small team of Alabama economic development specialists on a business development mission.

Ivey and her team are planning to hold high-level meetings with executives of global automakers Toyota, Mazda and Honda.

“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 team left for Japan on Tuesday and will return on Thursday after the appointments in Tokyo. The stated goal of the mission is to facilitate growth in the state’s automotive sector and reinforce relationships with the manufacturers.

“While we have a longstanding relationship with Toyota, we’re still developing bonds with Mazda, which has no manufacturing presence in the U.S.,” Alabama Secretary of Commerce Greg 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.”

Mazda and Toyota have a joint venture to build a $1.6 billion manufacturing plant in Huntsville, just 14 miles from a Toyota engine plant that already employs 1,400 people.

The new assembly plant in Huntsville will employ 4,000 people and spawn a significant network of suppliers.

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Canfield said that the discussions with Mazda and Toyota executives will focus on moving the assembly plant project forward. The talks will also address how their supply chain can be filled leading up to a production launch in 2021.

Joining Ivey and Canfield in the meetings with Mazda and Toyota executives will be Huntsville Mayor Tommy Battle, Tennessee Valley Authority CEO Bill Johnson, the President and CEO of the Huntsville/Madison Chamber of Commerce Chip Cherry, Ivey’s Chief of Staff Steve Pelham, and the Assistant Director of Business Development at the Alabama Department of Commerce Hollie Pegg.

Battle and Ivey are both running in the June 5 Republican primary.

The state team (minus the Huntsville representatives) will also engage in talks with leaders of Honda, which operates a $2.6 billion assembly plant in Talladega County with 4,500 full-time workers. In early 2017, Honda announced an $85 million expansion as part of a multi-phase project to improve manufacturing flexibility at the Alabama factory and prepare it for future technologies.

Secretary 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.

The team will also visit the U.S. Embassy in Tokyo for a meeting with Ambassador Bill Hagerty. The discussion is expected to center on the current business climate in Japan and unfolding trade developments affecting the two countries.

“Ambassador Hagerty was one of the first people to call me and congratulate Alabama on attracting the Toyota-Mazda investment,” Gov. Ivey said. “This meeting shows the importance that Alabama plays on the world stage and I appreciate the work the Ambassador does on behalf of our nation. I look forward to the meeting and to working with him to continue the strong relationship between Japan and Alabama.”

Ivey hopes that these meetings will lead to additional economic growth for Alabama and more trade between the state and Japan.

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