Toyota’s 1794 edition of the Tundra pickup truck commemorates the year Juan Ignacio de Casanova received a grant for a fertile tract of land that would become the site of Toyota’s truck factory in south Bexar County more than 200 years later.
It couldn’t have been easy for Casanova or his son, who later took over the family ranch, to make a living while Mexico rebelled against Spain, followed by Texas rebelling against Mexico. But they persevered, and the land remained in the family’s hands until Toyota Motor Manufacturing purchased it in 2003.
It also wasn’t easy for Texas to win the Toyota plant against intense competition from sites in several other Southern states. “Project Starbright,” its code name, was the ultimate economic development prize, promising thousands of construction jobs, thousands more permanent jobs and a multibillion-dollar impact on the Texas economy.
The competition drew in governors, congressmen and business titans from across the South. But Texas won the day in the end.
It was a victory of cooperation, collaboration and creativity.
Before Toyota selected San Antonio for the plant, the ad hoc “Team Toyota” came together to tackle every possible obstacle. The team included representatives of the governor’s office, local elected officials, business leaders, lawyers, the San Antonio Economic Development Foundation and anyone who could help make the Texas pitch stronger. It was a testament to the Texas spirit — we pull together, we think big and we fight for Texas.
Winning the Toyota sweepstakes “ushered in more than $2.7 billion in direct and indirect capital investment, and about 5,700 jobs from Toyota and its suppliers,” the San Antonio Express-News reported in 2013. More recently, Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff said the main plant and its surrounding suppliers employ almost 7,000 people.
Those investments and good-paying jobs have a ripple effect throughout Texas, adding significantly to the economic vitality of our state.
Toyota’s commitment to Texas and our nation goes beyond jobs and the economy. The company has provided millions of dollars to support projects in education, quality of life and other priorities in Texas.
Nationally, Toyota’s partnership with the National Center for Family Literacy includes three separate programs that reach children and their families through more than 180 family literacy sites in 29 cities in 21 states.
Brings to mind a great Lyle Lovett lyric: “That’s right, you’re not from Texas but Texas wants you anyway,” which all Texans should be happy to say about Toyota.
A full 15 years after Texas landed on the list of finalists for the giant plant now located in south San Antonio, you’ve probably heard that the city is pursuing a $1.6 billion joint Toyota-Mazda plant. The new facility is expected to create about 4,000 jobs. That’s big.
Now is the time for Texas to come together again, marshal the resources and people necessary and go all-in to win the latest competition for a new Toyota (and Mazda) plant. We have the huge advantages of 15 years’ experience working with Toyota and an existing plant with land and suppliers already in place.
All Texans should also rally behind Gov. Greg Abbott using Texas Enterprise Fund money to help close the deal. The Enterprise Fund was created when the competition for the Tundra factory 15 year ago exposed the state’s lack of a deal-closing fund, which some other states already had.
Texas secured the Toyota Motor North America headquarters project in Plano, and its estimated 6,400 jobs, with help from a $40 million Texas Enterprise Fund grant. Let’s use the fund again to seal the deal for the new Toyota-Mazda plant.
Besides cash, the secret sauce that won over Toyota back in 2003 was the cooperation, collaboration and creativity they saw in Texas. No doubt it was the same when Toyota announced in 2014 that it would move its U.S. headquarters to Plano. It’s the Texas way — we love locking arms with our fellow Texans to make big things happen.
Let’s pull out all the stops and add a new chapter — Toyota/Mazda — to the amazing success story that is Texas.
This commentary first appeared in the Star-Telegram on August 29, 2017.
[Weston Martinez is a member of the Texas Real Estate Commission and vice president of business development at Patel Gaines, a Texas-based law firm.]