In 2001, when Nissan's still-new CEO Carlos Ghosn picked the plant site in Canton, no automakers assembled cars and only a handful of suppliers operated in Mississippi.
Today, other than Nissan and a more recent Toyota plant 200 miles north in Tupelo, there is still little automotive manufacturing in the state.
But Nissan has big plans for Canton. In addition to the roster of seven models either being built or soon to launch there, Nissan intends to move the Murano crossover to Canton from Japan in late 2014. The Mississippi plant will become that vehicle's global export center, supplying 116 markets around the world, including Japan.
Nissan knows that to make this work, the Murano's parts have to be globally cost competitive. And to achieve that, Nissan needs more local parts manufacturing in and around Canton, reducing shipping costs as much as possible.
If all this sounds familiar, it is.
Nissan made headlines in 2001 and 2002 by building the Canton plant with a degree of supplier-automaker cohabitation new to the North American industry. Plant designers created a weatherproof conveyor system that brought parts to the vehicle assembly line from supplier lines in an adjacent building. Separate companies sorted subcomponents at one end of Nissan's plant, sequenced them to match Nissan's production schedule and delivered them to Nissan workers at the assembly line.
Over the past decade, the concept spread around North America, blurring the line between the activities of automakers and suppliers.
The key reason for all the fuss: logistics cost.
Transportation costs are a significant enough piece of the supply-chain equation that parts companies must address, says Dan Bednarzyk, vice president of total delivered cost for Nissan Americas, a far-reaching new position at the company.
Until a few months ago, Bednarzyk was vice president over the Canton manufacturing plant. His new task has him attacking costs throughout Nissan's operations, from factories in Brazil to new-car deliveries to dealers in Canada -- and at all the suppliers in between.
In Canton, his challenge is to find ways to make it affordable for suppliers to move into Mississippi.
"There are clearly opportunities in better logistics," the former factory boss says. "The cost of components is far and away the biggest part of your vehicle cost. The three big categories are in-house manufacturing cost, purchased cost and then logistics cost."
Nissan also has some catch-up work in Canton. Since the 2008 economic crash, a number of the suppliers that Nissan recruited to Mississippi in 2001-03 pulled back their operations during the downturn, went out of business or opted to ship parts to Canton from factories elsewhere.
"A lot of our suppliers reduced their footprint, and now they're trying to rapidly come back," Bednarzyk says. "If they're going to grow, why not have them grow closer to our plant where we can both reduce our costs? That's a key focus for us as the industry is coming back."