Japanese automakers Toyota and Mazda made Alabama a winner again Wednesday with the announcement they have chosen the state for their new $1.6 billion joint-venture manufacturing facility. The location announcement for the mega plant, promising thousands of new jobs, was highly anticipated by leaders in states and cities across the southern U.S., including San Antonio.

“Welcome to Sweet Home Alabama,” Governor Kay Ivey declared at a livestreamed press conference.

The location for the “Project New World” combined production plant will be Alabama’s Limestone County in Huntsville. Toyota plans to build North America’s Corollas there, while Mazda will focus on crossover SUV models, for a total of 300,000 vehicles annually.

The plant is estimated to bring 4,000 new jobs to the U.S. when it is complete in 2021, and will be Mazda’s first production facility in North America.

The City of San Antonio and Bexar County had submitted an incentive application for the plant. Representatives from the City, County, and the San Antonio Economic Development Foundation (SAEDF) had been meeting with representatives of Toyota and Mazda for several months, including a visit to Plano, Texas, in mid-September. But local officials said the bid was something of a long shot, even with Toyota having an existing plant in San Antonio.

Even early on, “it was pretty clear it was not coming to going to come to Texas,” Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff said. “But we didn’t know precisely yet what their plans were … so we worked with them on whatever might come this way.”

“From the beginning of our conversations, we all knew this was going to be an aspirational endeavor for us,” said Jenna Saucedo-Herrera, SAEDF president and CEO. “We used their announcement for a mega plant to position San Antonio to have conversations about growth for our existing plant. We’ve been realistic all along.”

During Wednesday’s announcement, Mazda’s Senior Managing Executive Officer Akira Koga promised to supply vehicles all over America. “We hope that over time, we will have a special place in the heart of our employees and the local community by making this plant a vibrant part of the community,” Koga said.

Akio Toyoda, president of Toyota, called it a homecoming, citing the 700,000 Toyota engines already produced in the state every year. “Two things brought us together,” he said. “The love of cars and the love of hometowns.”

Appearing before a “Made in Alabama” backdrop, Huntsville Mayor Tommy Battle said auto manufacturing is no longer just about cars and trucks, “but about mobility and autonomous technology. Huntsville will be playing a role in the evolution of this industry. This is a legacy project that will affect our community and state for years to come.”

Alabama was identified early on as one of 11 states that were frontrunners to receive the plant. In October, it was widely reported that the automakers were seeking a $1 billion tax incentive for the plant. Then, by mid-November, the list of potential sites had been cut down to two states, Alabama and North Carolina.

In 2002, San Antonio beat out Alabama, Arkansas, Mississippi, Tennessee, and other Texas cities for the $1.2 billion Toyota manufacturing plant that began producing Tundra trucks here in 2006. All U.S. Tundra manufacturing moved to the San Antonio facility in 2008, and Tacoma production began here a year later.

Toyota’s existing Tacoma and Tundra manufacturing plant in San Antonio received a $133 million incentive package from the City and County. The Southside facility employs nearly 7,000 workers, which includes 23 on-site suppliers.

Shari Biediger has been covering business and development for the San Antonio Report since 2017. A graduate of St. Mary’s University, she has worked in the corporate and nonprofit worlds in San Antonio...