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Toyota could draw other racing firms

By Scott Jenkins

Salisbury Post

Toyota’s plans to locate part of its racing division in Rowan County could lure other racing-related businesses to the county. At least, that’s what the company hopes, a top executive said Thursday.

Jim Aust, chief executive officer of Toyota Racing Development, said the company currently plans to keep about 40 of the 89 acres it is looking to buy on Peach Orchard Road off Interstate 85.

Toyota plans to build a 35,000-square-foot engineering and design facility on 10 acres to support its affiliated race teams, including NASCAR Nextel Cup and Craftsman Truck Series competitors. Employees there would work mainly on chassis development. Toyota would set aside 30 acres for potential future expansion.

“And we have no idea what that is at this point,” Aust said. “But we’ve learned over years of being in racing that there’s always a need for property to expand and meet needs, whatever those needs might be.”

Aust said the remaining 50 acres may be developed at some point, but neither Toyota Racing nor any of the automaker’s other divisions currently has plans use it. He said Toyota hopes the presence of its racing division presence will attract “companies or organizations that are part of the racing industry,” he said.

“… There’s no guarantee that’s going to happen, of course.”

The site selection isn’t final and hinges on Rowan County commissioners approving a $519,750 property tax rebate over five years for Toyota’s expected $22 million investment in the facility. Company officials presented their plans to the board Monday. The county will hold a Jan. 16 public hearing on the incentives.

Toyota looked at sites in multiple states and narrowed its search to counties around Charlotte before deciding on the Peach Orchard Road land. Aust said Toyota chose the Rowan site for several reasons: it’s already flat and won’t be nearly as expensive to prepare for construction as other sites considered; it has good access to a major interstate that’s not heavily trafficked; and it’s centrally located for Toyota race teams and current employees who will work there and live from High Point to Concord.

The company also liked that the land is “a virgin site,” Aust said. “It’s wooded, and so it offers a lot of opportunities from an ecological and environmental standpoint that Toyota is very much a player for.

“It gives us the opportunity to go in and put up the building we want to put up and also maintain the local environment.”

Aust said a second phase of the project, alluded to during the meeting with commissioners earlier this week, is the potential expansion of the primary engineering facility. That facility will house equipment that engineers and race teams can use to test various various car components. As new technology is developed, more space may be needed.

Toyota Racing expanded its main operation in California by leasing a site near its headquarters and installing equipment where the company could machine engine parts rather than ship them to shops all over the world, Aust said. A similar situation may arise in North Carolina, he said.

Aust said Toyota Racing does not plan to move the engine facility it operates in High Point, though 25 employees from that plant would move to the Rowan County site.

An independent contractor fabricates truck bodies for Toyota in High Point, and Aust said that work won’t be moved to Rowan, either. Race teams fabricate their own car bodies, he said.

Aust doesn’t expect any of the race teams associated with Toyota to move to Rowan County.

Bill Davis Racing has been in High Point for many years. Michael Waltrip is building Waltrip Racing World in Cornelius. And Team Red Bull recently leased a shop in Mooresville.

In addition to the employees who would move from Toyota’s High Point shop, the Rowan facility would create 15 new jobs, Aust said. Average annual salary at the plant would be $70,000.

The Peach Orchard Road building would take a couple of years to complete, he said.

Contact Scott Jenkins at 704-797-4248 or sjenkins@salisburypost.com.

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