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Toyota to build auto plant in Mississippi

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TUPELO, Miss. (AP) — Toyota Motor Corp.'s Highlander sport utility vehicle should start rolling off the assembly line at a new, $1.3 billion plant in northeast Mississippi by 2010, company and state officials said Tuesday.

Toyota disclosed the site for its eighth vehicle assembly plant in North America, saying it will be built on a 1,700-acre site at Blue Springs, about 10 miles northwest of Tupelo. It also considered sites in neighboring states Arkansas and Tennessee.

The Mississippi plant will manufacture 150,000 Highlanders a year. It also will create 2,000 badly needed jobs in an area with an economy that has slowed because of losses in furniture manufacturing positions.

Mississippi officials courted Toyota for two-and-one-half years, mostly out of the public eye.

"As Elvis would say, 'Only fools rush in,"' Ray Tanguay, executive vice president of Toyota Motor Engineering and Manufacturing North America Inc., said during the company's announcement at Tupelo High School.

Elvis Presley was born in Tupelo.

Toyota officials said the company chose to go to northeast Mississippi because they liked what they saw of the education levels and work ethic of potential employees.

Jim Wiseman, vice president of external affairs for Toyota North America, said more than 25 states sought the plant and Tennessee and Arkansas had "excellent sites."

"You can't choose everybody," Wiseman said.