Originally created 11/23/04

State pushes site in Pooler for development



ATLANTA - A 1,560-acre tract of land sits vacant in Pooler, Ga., treeless and waiting for a new owner.

State economic development officials say they haven't shut the door to DaimlerChrysler, which passed on the site near Savannah last year, but they are actively shopping the land around to other automakers in the meantime.

The state spent $60 million preparing the tract of land in the hopes that DaimlerChrysler would build a $750 million, 2.3 million-square-foot plant there to manufacture its Sprinter vans.

Facing significant financial losses in its Chrysler division and declining demand for the vans at the time, the German company announced it was delaying the project.

The Georgia Department of Economic Development still is in communication with DaimlerChrysler, but the office has expanded its options, said Kevin Langston, a spokesman for the state agency.

"We have presented the Pooler site to all of the major auto manufacturers," he said. "That's something we've been working on since the site became available."

One car company recently caused a stir when a head official hinted at the possibility of building another assembly plant in the United States.

While delivering a financial update this month, Toyota Chairman Hiroshi Okuda said he thinks the Japanese automaker will need new production bases to meet future growth and is considering adding a seventh plant in North America.

Toyota, which has four plants in the U.S. and Canada, is in the process of building Tacoma pickups in Mexico and will open a plant to make Tundra pickups in Texas.

Mr. Okuda's comments about future North American plant expansion were vague and without a definite timetable, but Toyota is one of the companies state officials have contacted on the list of potential targets for the Pooler site.

"We are talking to Toyota just as we're talking to all of the auto manufacturers," Mr. Langston said.

Lynn Pitts, the senior vice president for the Savannah Economic Development Authority, said his group has not had contact with Toyota officials.

"Obviously, the site is tailor-made for a large vehicle assembly plant like Toyota has done in numerous places in the U.S.," he said.

Dan Sieger, a spokesman for Toyota Motor Manufacturing North America in Erlanger, Ky., said the company is looking at whether to start building a hybrid vehicle in the United States but that production would likely be added onto an existing facility.

Mr. Sieger said Mr. Okuda's outlook for expansion hinged on whether Toyota's sales remain strong in North America.

"But at this point there is no official site search going on," he said about building a new plant.

Reach Vicky Eckenrode at (404) 589-8424 or vicky.eckenrode@morris.com.