LITTLE ROCK (AP) A soybean field outside Marion has sprouted the first steel beams that will eventually become an auto parts plant heralded as a job engine for the depressed Arkansas Delta.
Hino Motors Ltd., a subsidiary of Toyota Motor Corp. that supplies parts for the Japanese auto giant and manufactures its own line of trucks, completed a deal last year to build a parts plant at Marion and create 280 new jobs.
The plant is being built next to a larger site Arkansas has tried to push for an auto assembly plant. The site was a finalist for a Toyota plant in 2003, but lost out to San Antonio.
On Jan. 24, cranes placed vertical steel beams in the ground and lowered roof joists across them while local officials and contractors looked on.
Kay Brockwell, Marion’s economic development director, said it was a thrill to see the physical culmination of her hard work to bring Hino to the city.
“It’s one milestone, but there’s a lot left to be done,” she said. “There’s a lot to be done before the parts plant is completed and, of course, much more to have a full assembly plant there.”
The parts plant is expected to open in October 2006.
If weather permits, South Carolina-based general contractor Lockwood Greene and Obiyashi Construction plan to set the framework for the building over the next five to six weeks, Brockwell said. The concrete flooring will be poured after the skeleton is in place and it’s been enclosed by a roof and exterior walls.
Hino opened a truck assembly plant in Long Beach, CA, last year and is waiting to see how its products are received in the American market. In Japan, Hino makes cab-over-engine designs, but for its U.S. operations is trying a more American style in which the engine sits in front of the cab.
The Marion parts plant is to make differentials and rear-axle and suspension-related parts for 300,000 Toyota vehicles a year. Hino officials told The Associated Press last May that, if the company is able to expand sales of its own trucks in this country, a truck-assembly plant could be added at the 160-acre site. Sources have told the AP that an assembly plant is assured for somewhere near the parts plant, though the timing isn’t known.
Brockwell said the accomplishment also inspired Marion officials to redouble their efforts for a full assembly plant.
“When we worked as long as we did on this, to see it reach a milestone like this, it’s extremely encouraging to go back and work harder on the next phase and the next project,” she said.