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PRINCETON, Ind. (WISH) — Princeton in Gibson County in southwest Indiana will hold a parade Saturday to honor its hometown WNBA hero Jackie Young.

Young, the 2016 Indiana Miss Basketball and a star at the University of Notre Dame, played high school basketball in Princeton.

Young is a member of the 2022 WNBA Champion Las Vegas Aces.

The parade is scheduled to start at 4 p.m. CDT.

The city of 8,315 residents is about a 2-hour, 3-minute drive southwest of downtown Indianapolis.

INDIANAPOLIS (Inside INdiana Business) — Two Indiana agriculture organizations are among several urging Congress to pass immigration laws that address the nation’s labor shortages, especially in the farming industry. Indiana Dairy Producers and the Indiana Poultry Association warn failure to act could lead to higher food prices and pose a threat to the food supply. The organizations say the current H-2A guestworker program needs reform.

“The H-2A program…is geared towards vegetable and fruit farms. But our livestock industry has no year- round source for workers. And this has deep implications on our farm,” said Steve Obert, executive director of Indiana Dairy Producers.

The federal guestworker program, first approved by Congress in 1986, allows agricultural employers to hire workers from other countries on temporary work permits for farm jobs that last ten months or less. But operations, like dairy and poultry farms, require year-round help.

“This is a critical issue that impacts that ability to do that and also keeping prices down as we go through a period of inflationary pressure that we all have been experiencing,” said Obert, who runs a dairy farm near Evansville.

Click here to listen to more of Obert’s comments about the need for improved farm worker policies.

At a roundtable convened Tuesday by the Indiana Dairy Producers and the American Business Immigration Coalition, speakers called on the Senate to pass legislation that increases access to the H-2A visa program, “enhances our food security by protecting domestic agriculture production and ensures that grocery store shelves remain stocked.”

Indiana’s poultry producers face similar obstacles. Indiana is one of the leading states in egg, duck and turkey production.

“We rely on immigrant labor to help our animals, and, like the dairy sector, we need help year-round,” said Indiana Poultry Association President Rebecca Joniskan. “We rely on our workers to have good knowledge of animal welfare, and also to be cognizant of our biosecurity needs as we face disease incidents.”

A recent outbreak of highly pathogenic avian flu impacted 13 farms in five Indiana counties. Nearly 200,000 turkeys and ducks were euthanized to contain the spread of the disease.

In March 2021, the U.S House of Representatives approved a bipartisan bill that would provide changes to the H-2A program. The Farm Workforce Modernization Act permits farmworkers, their spouses and children to earn legal status through continued employment in the agricultural sector.

The U.S. Senate has not taken up the legislation and farm groups are urging them to do so.

“This sort of reform is important to give [our workers] some predictability to their employment status. And all of that goes to support healthy, nutritious, affordable protein. We encourage our Members of Congress to push forward and try to find solutions that work for not only Hoosiers but our whole country—and in support of our industries,” said Joniskan.

Obert says immigrant labor is estimated to provide care and milk 79% of the U.S. milk supply. He says without migrant workers, retail milk prices would double.

“Costing the U.S. economy nearly $32 billion. So, it’s important to point out that for our livestock industry and those that are needing year-round workers,” Obert said.

HAUBSTADT, Ind. (Inside INdiana Business) — A Gibson County-based internet consulting firm is partnering with an Ohio company to improve internet service in underserved areas of northeast Indiana and northwest Ohio. GRiT Technologies LLC, located in the town of Haubstadt, is working with MetaLINK Technologies Inc. to deliver carrier-grade LoRaWAN connectivity to the Maumee River Water Shed region.

LoRaWAN is an abbreviation for Long Range Wide Area Network. It uses open-source technology and transmits over unlicensed frequency bands.

The technology is valuable in applications in remote areas where cellular networks have poor coverage.

GRiT says it is working with Internet Service Providers across the country to deploy IoT services for various purposes, such as, to monitor propane tanks and agricultural irrigation.

“LoRaWAN has emerged as one of the most advanced, powerful and cost-effective IoT solutions. Many companies have reached out to GRiT and MetaLINK to inquire about sensor monitoring and comprehensive IoT solutions. Deployments began in September and already, there are sensors being monitored on the network,” said Roger Criblez, chief executive officer of GRiT.

Criblez says collaborations like this will help rejuvenate rural communities by delivering a broadband signal otherwise not available.

PRINCETON, Ind. (Inside INdiana Business) — As one of the top auto manufacturing states in the U.S., Indiana appears to be well-positioned to embrace the growing electric vehicle sector, according to Paul Mitchell, president and chief executive officer of Indianapolis-based Energy Systems Network. He says the state’s manufacturing reputation and workforce could signal automakers like Toyota the state is ready for an EV battery manufacturing plant. This week, Toyota announced it will invest approximately $3.4 billion in automotive batteries in the U.S. through 2030.

ESN is an initiative of the Central Indiana Corporate Partnership that focuses on the development of advanced energy and transportation sectors. In an interview with Inside INdiana Business, Mitchell said parts suppliers are a key reason for the success of Indiana’s auto industry.

“When you are a large automotive manufacturing state, it means you’ve got a robust supply chain of components and parts that can go into a battery pack,” said Mitchell. “There are pieces of metal and plastic and casings and, and connectors and wires and all those kinds of things that go into a battery pack, and we make a lot of that stuff in Indiana.”

Toyota’s investment includes the construction of a $1.3 billion automotive battery plant near one of its vehicle assembly plants. Toyota Motor Manufacturing Indiana in Princeton is one of those plants, which is already focused on EV generation. In April, TMMI announced plans to invest $800 million to retool the manufacturing lines at the Gibson County plant to produce two electric vehicle models and add 1,400 workers.

“Expanding our Toyota family by 1,400 is a challenge we are eager to accept,” TMMI President Leah Curry said during the announcement last spring. “This is a testament to the strong workforce in the southwest Indiana region.”

Toyota says it aims to start battery production in 2025, focusing on lithium-ion auto batteries. The new factory would eventually result in 1,750 new jobs, according to the automaker.

“This investment will help usher in more affordable electrified vehicles for U.S. consumers, significantly reduce carbon emissions, and importantly, create even more American jobs tied to the future of mobility,” said Ted Ogawa, chief executive officer, Toyota Motor North America.

Mitchell says Indiana has the legacy of automobile battery production dating back to the early 1900s, but it also can boast about the Battery Innovation Center in the Greene County town of Newberry, which conducts research and the development of lightweight energy storage systems. The town is just 60 miles from the Princeton plant.

“Hundreds of different customers, major automakers, including Toyota, have done work with the Battery Innovation Center and see it as a center of excellence for helping them develop safer, higher energy density, more robust battery systems. Having that having that facility in their backyard can be a real selling point,” said Mitchell.

In addition to Indiana, Toyota operates assembly plants in Alabama, Kentucky, Missouri and Texas. Those states could all be stiff competition. Mitchell says even if Indiana does not land this battery plant, he suspects there will be other opportunities, whether it is Toyota or some other car maker.

“We need to ensure that our supply chain of existing manufacturers are ready to transition some, maybe not all, but some of their production capacity to components and products that support the electric vehicle industry,” said Mitchell. “This will not be the last opportunity we have to land a major battery production facility. What we need to do is make sure that we’ve got this whole supply chain across the state is geared up to support the transition to more electrified vehicles be that hybrid, plug in hybrid or, fully electric.”

Toyota has not given a timeline as to when it might announce the location of the battery factory.

PRINCETON, Ind. (Inside INdiana Business) — Toyota Motor Manufacturing Indiana Inc. is marking a one-day halt in production Friday in Gibson County. A spokesperson for the automaker cites ongoing supply chain challenges as the reason for taking a “non-production day” at the Princeton plant.

Stacy Carr, manager of corporate communications for Toyota Motor North America, says the company will continue to face shortages affecting production at most of its North American plants.

“Our manufacturing and supply chain teams are working diligently to minimize the impact on production,” Carr said. “Though the situation remains fluid, in North America, we are projecting a reduction of approximately 60,000 to 80,000 vehicles in October. As a result, Toyota Indiana will have some planned downtime.”

Carr says the automaker does not anticipate any impact to employment at this time. 

PRINCETON, Ind. (Inside INdiana Business) — Toyota Motor Manufacturing Indiana Inc. now faces the task of filling 1,400 jobs over the next two years as the company retools manufacturing lines at its plant in Gibson County to produce two electric vehicle models. The company announced Wednesday it will invest more than $800 million to equip the plant and support employee training and re-tooling at supplier facilities.

However, the effort could create a workforce challenge in a county where the unemployment rate is about 2.5%, which is well below the current state rate of 3.9%.

“Expanding our Toyota family by 1,400 is a challenge we are eager to accept,” said TMMI President Leah Curry. “This is a testament to the strong workforce in the southwest Indiana region.”

Toyota Indiana already employs about 7,300 employees. It draws workers from a 75-mile ring that radiates out from Princeton, including the city of Evansville.

“This is one of those opportunities that you want to be able to help an existing company continue to grow,” said Greg Wathen, co-chief executive officer of Evansville Regional Economic Partnership. “Obviously, companies like Toyota, don’t make these types of decisions lightly because they can deploy capital anywhere around the world. The question is, do we have all the pieces in place that make sense for them to deploy that capital here? And we believe it does.”

Wathen says large companies, like Toyota, also tap into the broader 24-county market, which includes southeast Illinois and northwest Kentucky.

“I think it speaks volumes for the kind of talent that’s here that they continue to make investments,” said Wathen.

Despite potential workforce challenges, Princeton city leaders are thrilled about Wednesday’s announcement.

“Anytime you can add 1,400 new jobs to the existing 7,500 Toyota jobs here in Gibson County, I mean, it can do nothing but create a positive impact on what we have going well,” said Mayor Greg Wright.

He says the job creation by Toyota is exponential as it will require parts suppliers to boost production and staffing.

“A lot of the subsidiaries that are suppliers to Toyota have a job force here in the county that a lot of the people maybe aren’t Toyota team members, but they’re actually working for the suppliers that are important impact to our community,” said Wright.

In an interview with Inside INdiana Business, Curry said the company will rely in part on its high-school-focused 4T academy to train new workers.

“We just started the 4T program last year. High school students in the surrounding counties actually come here and we teach them about advanced manufacturing,” explained Curry. “Some of them can come and be production experts, some of them can be advanced manufacturing technicians or engineers. It’s a win-win-win.”

The company just announced it is expanding the geographic reach of the 4T Academy, which had been limited to high schools in Gibson County when it launched the program. Southridge High School in the Dubois County city of Huntingburg is the fourth high school to join Toyota’s on-the-job training program.

Curry says the program can lead to full-time jobs after graduation.

“We are actually showing them, bringing them in, teaching them about the opportunities that are available for a career here in manufacturing. It’s really getting the students to understand that there’s a lot of opportunities here.”

The first cohort of the 4T Academy will graduate this May. Click here to learn more about the program.

PRINCETON, Ind. (Inside INdiana Business) — Another major investment is coming to the Toyota Motor Manufacturing Indiana plant in Gibson County. The automaker says it will invest more than $800 million to add two electric vehicles to its production line at the Princeton facility, and create 1,400 jobs by the end of 2023. The new, three-row SUVs to be produced include models from Toyota and Lexus, and the company says the investment will also support employee training, as well as re-tooling at supplier facilities.

In an interview with Inside INdiana Business, TMMI President Leah Curry said the decision to make the investment in Princeton shows the confidence the company has on the facility’s employees.

“We don’t make these decisions lightly. There’s a lot of study that goes into not only two new products that are going to be three-row SUVs, and a brand new one, Toyota and Lexus. But also, you know, the investment amount and hiring 1,400 new team members that takes a lot of study and a lot of effort by many people to, to be able to make this type of investment in our future,” said Curry.

The company recently launched the 2021 Sienna minivan from the plant, which Curry says validates what the plant is able to do.

“They know they can see that our capability was there, our heart was there, our passion is there. And you know, and our workforce is up for the challenge,” said Curry.

Production of the new vehicles is expected to begin in mid-to-late 2023. Ted Ogawa, chief executive officer of Toyota Motor North America, says the investment will allow the automaker to expand its global portfolio to around 70 models by 2025 while also continuing work with electrification.

The Princeton plant currently employs nearly 7,300 Hoosiers and has begun filling production positions. 

The investment marks the third major expansion at the facility in the last four years. Combined with previous projects in 2017 and 2020, Toyota has invested more than $2.1 billion in Gibson County and committed to creating nearly 2,000 jobs in that time frame. 

“Toyota has been an incredible partner to the state of Indiana for nearly 25 years, and we’re thrilled to continue that partnership in order to drive our economy forward,” Governor Eric Holcomb said in a news release. “Indiana is proud to be home to the highest concentration of manufacturing jobs in the nation, while providing a skilled workforce that is contributing to the success of companies across a variety of industries. I can’t thank Toyota enough for the role they play in the strength of our manufacturing sector.” 

TMMI currently manufactures the Highlander and Highlander Hybrid models, as well as the Toyota Sienna and Sequoia. The company says it assembles more than 420,000 vehicles annually and the new electric vehicles will put it one step closer to its goal of being carbon neutral by 2050.

Curry says production of the Sequoia is moving to Texas, creating space at the Princeton plant for the electric vehicle lines.

“We’re going be retooling. And the footprint itself won’t get a lot bigger, because as we’re trying to aim towards carbon neutrality. You know, we’re trying to make things more simple and slim and modular so that we can be very flexible, and we can make different types of vehicles in the same place,” said Curry.

The Indiana Economic Development Corp. plans to offer TMMI up to $14 million in conditional tax credits, which the company will not be eligible to claim until Hoosier workers are hired for the new jobs and capital investments are made. The incentives still require approval from the IEDC Board of Directors.

PRINCETON, Ind. (Inside INdiana Business) — Executives from Toyota Motor Manufacturing Indiana Inc. in Princeton will Wednesday make an economic development announcement. Few details are available, however Governor Eric Holcomb will be on hand for the event.

TMMI has made two major investments in the Gibson County plant over the past few years. In 2017, the company detailed plans to invest $600 million and create up to 400 jobs to help meet growing demand for the mid-size Highlander SUV. 

Almost precisely three years later, Toyota announced an additional $700 million investment, which would create up to 150 more jobs by the end of 2022. The company also unveiled a $1 million commitment to create a regional workforce program to connect high school students with career opportunities in advanced manufacturing. 

Toyota employs nearly 7,300 people in the Gibson County facility and has pumped $5.8 billion into the plant since it was established in 1996. In addition to the Highlander and its hybrid model, the plant also produces the Toyota Sequoia and Sienna vehicles.

The announcement is scheduled to take place at 10:30 a.m. Central Time in Princeton.

GIBSON CO., Ind. (Inside INdiana Business) — Merrillville-based Northern Indiana Public Service Co. LLC has signed a Build Transfer Agreement with the developer of a 200-megawatt solar farm in Gibson County.

The Elliott Solar project is one of several being undertaken by Capital Dynamics’ Clean Energy Infrastructure business in Indiana.

Construction is expected to begin in summer 2022 and the solar plant would become operational the following summer.

Under terms of the agreement, Capital Dynamics will construct the project, and NIPSCO will enter into a joint venture once construction is complete.

CEI and NIPSCO, which is a subsidiary of NiSource Inc. (NYSE: NI), are also partnering on a second solar project in Gibson County. In December, the utility announced it had signed a long-term agreement to purchase power from the 280-megawatt Gibson Solar Farm.

“Capital Dynamics is proud to further expand our presence in Indiana and contribute to the state’s ongoing energy transition,” said John Breckenridge, head of Clean Energy Infrastructure at Capital Dynamics. “We applaud NIPSCO for its commitment to providing customers with sustainable energy solutions.”

NIPSCO says it plans to be coal-free by 2028 by adding power generated from solar and wind farms to its existing portfolio of natural gas and hydroelectric generation.

PRINCETON, Ind. (Inside INdiana Business) — Toyota Motor Manufacturing Indiana says it will invest $1 million towards the construction of a new YMCA in Princeton, a first for the community of 8,600 people. The announcement comes as the automaker unveiled its new hybrid minivan, the 2021 Sienna, which is produced in Princeton.

The announcement took place at the former Lowell Elementary School where the YMCA will be built.

“It just gives you goosebumps. I grew up in Gibson County and we really needed this,” said Leah Curry, president of Toyota Indiana. “The new Toyota Indiana YMCA will provide access to all, helping Gibson county residents with the resources they need to live better lives. And a resilient community benefits us all.”

The nonprofit has plans to create areas for a STEM lab, teaching kitchen, gymnasium, childcare area and more. They hope to open in January 2022.

The facility will be affiliated with the YMCA of Southwestern Indiana, which operates out of Evansville. The organization says phase 1 of the project is approximately $2.5 million, which is being funded primarily through private and corporate donations to the capital campaign.

The organization says the Princeton center will provide for not only health and wellness needs but also community relationships.

“It’s a gathering place. This is not a fitness center. It’s not a gym and swim. It’s a gathering place. And that’s what YMCAs are,” said YMCA of Southwestern Indiana President & Chief Executive Officer Jonathan Pope. “By collaborating with a community partner like Toyota, we will be able to offer access to wellness programs and activities. But, more importantly, we will provide a community resource for the entire family.”

Curry says the North Gibson School Corp. has agreed to donate the Lowell school property for the project. The YMCA says it is currently finishing up the environmental testing before formally closing on the property.

TMMI is celebrating this year the 25th anniversary of the groundbreaking of the Princeton plant, which now employs 7,000 workers.

Toyota Indiana says the Princeton plant is the top producer of its mid-sized Highlander SUV, but on Wednesday they spotlighted the new hybrid Sienna minivan. Curry says the new vehicle required specific training for workers and changes within the facility to allow for new manufacturing equipment and technology.

“It has 3,500 new parts,” said Curry. “That amount of change affects every team member from the process of the stamping line to all the way to the final line.”