By John Mullen

Tucker Dorsey knows the process for landing an auto plant in Baldwin County is just barely beginning. But he also knows the county’s South Alabama Mega Site near Bay Minette will have the county in the running.

“We know that our spot qualifies and we know we’ll be in the conversation,” Dorsey, a county commissioner, said. “Just because of the assets at the Mega Site, we know that we’ll be competitive in this opportunity. But we’ve got a long way to go.”

Making big news last week was a Toyota announcement it was partnering with Mazda to build a $1.6 billion auto assembly plant somewhere in the United States. Alabama is one of 11 states the companies are evaluating to locate the new factory.

Its impact, wherever it lands, will be akin to Airbus coming to Mobile County, Dorsey said.

“This, for our region, would be as big a project as we could imagine,” Dorsey said. “It’ll match Airbus in scope and size and economics.”

Lee Lawson of the Baldwin County Economic Alliance says the Baldwin Mega Site, still looking for its first tenant since development on the $32 million property started in 2006, was built with the auto industry in mind.

“Our site has been certified for automotive assembly,” Lawson said. “When CSX and the county identified the site several years ago, they certified it for an automotive assembly plant.

“We’ve prepared the site for a project of that nature and our site is a great fit and it’s meant for that kind of project.”

Dorsey said the automakers’ latest proposal, because of the unique cars the companies plan to build, will cause an economic ripple well beyond the initial 4,000 jobs.

“This is also building electric cars and self-driving cars so it requires a new supply chain with it,” he said.

Toyota has said the new factory would make Corollas and the Mazda effort would concentrate on crossovers. Combined, the two automakers expect to produce 300,000 cars a year. The target opening date is 2021.

Alabama is already home to a healthy auto industry, with 57,000 workers producing cars and another 25,000 working with suppliers through 160 companies. State factories produced one million vehicles in 2016, and cars are the number one export in Alabama, according to madeinalabama.com.

Mercedes near Tuscaloosa, Hyundai near Montgomery and Honda in Lincoln produce cars in the state. Toyota has a truck engine factory in Huntsville.

The 3,009-acre Baldwin site was first designated as a Mega Site in July 2013, meaning it is shovel-ready with all utilities in place, adjacent to a major interstate highway and has mainline CSX rail service. The site is owned by the county.

At July’s Baldwin County Commission meeting, CSX railroad added its Select Site certification to the Mega Site, only one of a handful in the country to earn the designation.

Other states also vying for the plant are Florida, Kentucky, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina and Texas.