Remember the big "megasite" battle in Augusta County about four or five year ago when it was rumored that Toyota wanted to build a car manufacturing plant in Weyers Cave, and a woman at the opposite end of the county protested to the Board of Supervisors? That began a huge battle that pitted the large land owners in the southern and southwestern areas of the county against residents who were looking for jobs.
As a result, Toyota gave up and reportedly moved to Mississippi where they were welcomed with open arms. This week, even as the plant is still under construction, they received 9,600 applications from across the nation for 1,500 jobs that will pay between $15 and $20 an hour.
The nation's unemployment rate came out today at 9.6%. Local folks are looking for jobs and need employment ... companies have laid off workers and some have gone out of business. If the Toyota plant had located in Augusta, those jobs would have been available for local residents.
According to Edmunds Auto Observer, applications came from 33 different states in the Union, with 8,000 of the applications originating from the state of Mississippi. David Copenhaver, vice president of administration at Toyota, reportedly told the Jackson Clarion-Ledger newspaper that the majority of the jobs will go to applicants who reside within 100 miles of the facility.The megasite battle caused a split on the Augusta County Board of Supervisors as well as the community. At the time, an article in the Roanoke Times reported some of the opposition:
In Augusta County, rumors about Toyota have circulated since at least December 2004. The most mentioned site there is in Weyers Cave, a community on the north end of the county. And in the past year Augusta County commissioned a study to identify the site's infrastructure need to draw a major industrial employer.One has to wonder if the Toyota plant could have been a bigger help to Augusta County than the negatives proposed by those who fought to keep it out.
"Weyers Cave is strategically located," said Wendell Coleman, chairman of the Augusta County Board of Supervisors. "It's located strategically off I-81. It's right by the hub of Shenandoah Valley Regional Airport. And the railroad goes right by it."
The site has water and natural gas service, Coleman said. And although the land ownership is fragmented -- the largest landowner holds about 800 acres -- it's in a predominantly agricultural area, with most of the land still undeveloped.
The agricultural character may work against the chances of Toyota locating a factory there. Kay Frye, the supervisor who represents the Middle River district, which includes Weyers Cave, said she's opposed to the idea.
"We're very fortunate here in Augusta County to have everything in balance," Frye said. "We've got a nice mix of manufacturing and jobs. ... And our population is not growing real fast but it's on the high end of the estimates. When you get that kind of development that fast, you get a lot of costs, and eventually the cost of providing those services outstrips what you get."
Frye said state economic development officials have touted the potential of 1,000-acre "megasites" for attracting large employers, but "all they're telling us is all the gravy about it."
State Del. Steve Landes, R-Augusta County, represents the area in the General Assembly. He's heard the rumors about Toyota, and has his own set of concerns.
"The other thing about the automobile industry is it's a very volatile business right now," Landes said. "We're losing the Ford plant in Norfolk. I would think from a business standpoint, localities would be a little bit skittish about the industry in general being that stable. Obviously some of the international companies have done better in the marketplace, but it's not as stable as it used to be."