MONTGOMERY, Ala. — Alabama Governor Robert Bentley and top state economic development officials today met with high-ranking executives of Toyota at the global automaker’s headquarters as the Alabama team marked the second day of a trade mission to Japan.
While in Toyota City, Governor Bentley met Toyota Chairman Takeshi Uchiyamada and discussed the ongoing expansion project at the automaker’s sprawling engine plant in Huntsville. Governor Bentley also talked with company President Akio Toyoda and Executive Vice President and board member Seiichi Sudo today.
To greet the Alabama team, Toyota officials placed a banner saying: “Welcome to Toyota, the Honorable Robert Bentley, Governor of Alabama.” The sign displayed the U.S. and Alabama flags.
Jim Bolte, head of the Toyota engine plant in Huntsville, accompanied the Alabama officials on the visit to the global automaker’s headquarters. He said the visit served an important purpose as Alabama officials attempt to deepen their connections to Japan business leaders.
“Relationships are important in any business, but especially when it comes to global ones,” Bolte said.
During the visit, Governor Bentley, Alabama Department of Commerce Secretary Greg Canfield and the department’s Asia business development expert Hollie Pegg got a peek at Toyota innovations, including an experimental personal vehicle, hybrid cars and eco-friendly design and safety advances.
They were scheduled to tour Toyota’s Motomachi assembly plant and see the Toyota Automobile Museum during today’s visit.
Alabama’s relationship with Toyota has been fruitful. The automaker announced plans to open a $220 million, 325-worker engine plant in Huntsville in 2001, and the facility has been in growth mode since it began production. There have been four major expansions in 11 years, pushing the Alabama investment to $850 million and the workforce to nearly 1,200.
“We are very proud of our team members … their big efforts, and great results,” Bolte said. “It’s one of the main reasons we have continued to grow. Our partnership with AIDT (the state’s workforce development agency) has been stellar in this regard as well.”
The Alabama plant has the capacity to produce 750,000 engines per year and is the automaker’s only facility that turns out four-cylinder, V6 and V8 engines.
On Tuesday, Governor Bentley and the Alabama team met with Tatsuo Higuchi, president, CEO and representative director of Otsuka Holdings, the parent company of Pharmavite, which produces Nature Made vitamins in the United States. Pharmative this year opened a $90 million, 240-worker plant in Opelika, Ala.
Governor Bentley also met with Hiroyuki Ishige, chairman and CEO of the Japan External Trade Organization (JETRO), a group that works to promote trade and investment. Bentley presented Ishige with an Alabama-made pen crafted from a dogwood tree downed by the April 27, 2011, tornado in Tuscaloosa.
The governor and Ishige discussed the Japanese automotive industry, opportunities for Alabama and rising competition for projects from Latin America.