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HUNTSVILLE, Ala. – A groundbreaking ceremony for the Mazda Toyota Manufacturing plant was held Friday morning at the Huntsville plant’s location in Limestone County.

The plant is estimated to cost $1.6 billion and employ up to 4,000 workers.

Friday’s ceremony included top company officials and elected leaders and included a focus on Huntsville’s history of rocket and technology development, which speakers noted, will continue far into the future with the new plant.

Masahi Aihara, president of Mazda Toyota Manufacturing, said the plant will have the capacity to build 300,000 vehicles a year.

The deal bringing the huge car-making plant to Huntsville was announced in January.

Huntsville Mayor Tommy Battle, who was a driving force in making that deal, said, “Today, will go down as one of one proudest moments we have.

“Today is the day we make a mark in this industry with two incredible partners, Toyota and Mazda,” Battle said.  The mayor also singled out the work done by the city’s economic development team led by Shane Davis.

Kiyotaka Shobuda, senior managing officer for Mazda Motor Corporation, announced Mazda would build a brand-new crossover vehicle at the plant.

During his remarks, Jim Lentz, CEO of Toyota Motor North America, pointed to Toyota’s longstanding relationship with Huntsville.

He said the opening of the Toyota engine plant in Huntsville 17 years ago began with about 300 workers. Since then, it’s expanded four times and now employs 1,400 workers.

Lentz said the company would produce its new model of the Corolla at the plant.

“It’s going to be an absolutely amazing product,” he said.

The event was crowded with top executives and elected officials. Gov. Kay Ivey was a few minutes late, but received a standing ovation upon her arrival.

The companies also announced significant donations to area school systems and workforce development efforts.

Mazda Toyota Manufacturing donated $250,000 to be split between six local school districts, to support career technical programs that align with advanced manufacturing.

The school systems receiving the donations are Huntsville City Schools, Madison City Schools, Madison County Schools’ Career Technical Center, Limestone County Schools’ Career Technical Center, Decatur City Schools and Morgan County Schools’ Career Technical Center.

And the companies made a $500,000 donation to the Huntsville-Madison County Chamber of Commerce Foundation’s new regional workforce development program. It will include a new web-based platform to allow students to consider careers in advanced manufacturing, build skill sets and connects jobs and job-seekers.

Mazda Foundation USA provided three grants to community nonprofits. The organization donated $50,000  to The Boys and Girls Club of North Alabama, $50,000 to The Food Bank of North Alabama and a $20,000  to the Greater Huntsville Humane Society.