PRINCETON-Vuteq USA plans to build a new plant to make interior plastic parts for Toyota's Highlander sport utility vehicle slated for production in Gibson County, said plant manager Mike Tracey Tuesday.

The $24 million construction project on or near Toyota's property would add 52 employees to Vuteq's current workforce of 369, Gibson County Economic Development Corp. director Todd Mosby reported as he asked the Gibson County Council to consider tax incentives for the project.

Council members agreed to schedule a 7 p.m. Oct. 28 public hearing on the request for a 10-year personal and property tax phase-in incentive.

Mosby said the 150,000 square foot plant was originally planned for construction in Mississippi, but when Toyota moved the Highlander production to Gibson County, the company decided to expand in this area.

"Gibson County is Vuteq's first, but not only, choice," Mosby told council members. "Vuteq has been courted by several surrounding counties and even surrounding states."

He said the company would still pay $44,270 in new taxes to the county the first, and most advantageous year of the phase-ins. By 2020, when the proposed abatement expires, Vuteq would pay more than $300,000 - and over the course of the incentive period, would be paying nearly $2.2 million more than it pays in taxes today.

Vuteq located in Gibson County in 2001 and began production in 2003 as a Toyota supplier. Of the 369 current employees, Mosby said 65 percent live in Gibson County.

Wages start at $10.70 per hour for day shift and reach $14.85 after two years of employment, and start at $11.30 per hour for night shift, reaching $15.45 hourly after two years, excluding the value of fringe benefits. After two years, hourly wage and benefits value between $17.25 and $17.85 per hour, he reported.

Mosby detailed the fringe benefits employees receive, including family health insurance plans paid in total by the company, contributions toward 401K savings plans, vacation, sick and personal time off, 10 paid holidays and pay during plant shut-downs and military service.

He also reported than when Toyota stopped production of the Tundra pickup, Vuteq could have laid off 175 employees, but kept them working.

The company got tax incentives when it located in Gibson County, surpassing the job creation target tied to the offer, he said. Vuteq expanded again in 2006 without asking for tax incentives from local government.

"I'm tickled to see you're going to be able to make a silk purse out of a sow's ear," councilman Tony Wolfe told Tracey of the plans in the current economy.

Tracey said a specific site hasn't been selected, but if the company builds on Toyota property it will likely serve only Toyota. The first work is proposed for the Highlander, but he said the company would like to get bids for interior plastic parts for other vehicles, such as the Sienna, Sequoia and others.

Mosby said it's possible the project might require infrastructure work that could be financed through the tax increment financing district if the plant is located within the confines of the TIF district.

"It's ours to work on and do what's best," observed council president Tom Memmer of the tax incentive package. "They will not have to look at other counties even though they're knocking their door."

Somerville resident Steve Bottoms asked whether the construction work at the plant would be done by local craftsmen.

Tracey said if the plant is built on Toyota property, construction bids would be awarded based on Toyota's agreements with local trade unions and contractors.
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