PRINCETON, Ind. -- Toyota continues to grow worldwide, and its 20-year-old plant in Gibson County is booming along with it.
Company officials, joined by Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb, announced Tuesday they would add 400 jobs by 2019 as the company expands production of the Highlander vehicle by 40,000 units annually.
The plant, along U.S. 41 in Gibson County, currently has about 5,000 workers.
The expansion will mean about $600 million in new investments at the plant. The Highlander has been manufactured in Princeton since 2009.
"One thing that can be said of this plant, and Toyota in general, is that we've grown and we're not stopping," said newly hired Toyota Indiana President Millie Marshall.
Demand for the Highlander continues to be strong, Marshall said, citing recognition for its safety features and value.
The $600 million investment in Princeton will be used for retooling, new equipment and advanced technologies to make the Princeton plant more competitive, Marshall said.
"These new opportunities for our plant are a direct result of what our team has accomplished over the 20 years," Marshall said.
Toyota opened the assembly factory in 1998 and builds Sequoia SUVs and Sienna minivans, as well as the Highlander. The company says the plant built about 400,000 vehicles last year, up from about 375,000 during 2015.
Toyota has expanded the plant about 25 miles north of Evansville several times, most recently with a $100 million project announced in 2014 to boost Highlander production.
Holcomb, who during his recent State of the State address spoke of the need for a more skilled workforce across Indiana, said Toyota's partnership with Vincennes University on job training is "a model."
"We'll continue to work with them on workforce programs like what we already have established," Holcomb said. " ... We need to make sure our workforce is trained for jobs of the future, just like Toyota is underscoring today. We need to make sure our workforce is educated appropriately for the jobs of the 21st Century. the advanced manufacturing, life sciences, logistics, all the high-wage, high-demand jobs that are there now and will be there in the future."
Local economic officials have said there are about 6,000 available jobs in Gibson, Posey, Vanderburgh and Warrick counties. Greg Wathen, executive director of the Economic Development Coalition of Southwest Indiana, said the labor market will be there for the type of new jobs Toyota announced on Tuesday.
Southwest Indiana will address its skills gap, while also marketing itself in other communities where unemployment is higher than it is here, Wathen said.
"That's part of a long-term branding campaign to let people know what's available within this marketplace," Wathen said.
Among those crowded in the Princeton plant's Visitors Center for Tuesday's announcement was Evansville Regional Airport Director Doug Joest, who noted the airport's recent announcements of added service to Dallas and first-class seating on those American Airlines flights.
Toyota's North American headquarters is in the Dallas area. "Certainly Toyota's connection to Dallas helps us," Joest said.
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