Indiana wasn't a state that worked for Toyota and Mazda, which decided to turn elsewhere to build a new $1.6 billion automotive plant that will provide 4,000 workers with high-paying manufacturing jobs.
The Japanese automakers had been eyeing a site in New Carlisle in St. Joseph County, which potentially would have been a huge economic boon for Northwest Indiana that would have created job opportunities for residents in LaPorte and Porter Counties and possibly brought more auto suppliers to the Region.
But Toyota and Mazda have ruled Indiana out and are instead now looking only at southern states, St. Joseph County Executive Director of Economic Development Bill Schalliol said.
"The reasons Indiana was cut from the Toyota/Mazda project list were workforce-related," he said. "One issue was a concern that employment at a new facility might upset the employment balance at existing facilities for Toyota or Mazda in the state. Another issue was a concern about Indiana’s low unemployment rate."
Indiana's jobless rate is 3.8 percent, but it's significantly higher in Northwest Indiana, where an auto factory of that size would have pulled workers from. Companies from as far away as Elkhart and Hodgkins, Illinois, recently have tried to capitalize off high unemployment in the Region by having job fairs here and offering to bus workers as far as an hour and a half each way.
Schalliol said the automakers were now mainly looking at southern states. The United Auto Workers union has made many close but ultimately unsuccessful efforts to unionize auto workers in the South, where wages are lower, but Schalliol said he didn't know "if the union/non-union labor was a factor in the decision making."
"The 'concern of worker availability' might have been enough to be a ding mark for the county/region," he said.
Toyota had expressed concerns about drawing workers away from its Princeton plant in southern Indiana that builds the Sequoia SUV and the Sienna minivan, which is about a five-hour drive from New Carlisle.
"I have not mapped all of the Toyota or Mazda or joint-venture facilities, but it seems like they are far apart," Schalliol said.