About 30 percent of Hawkins County's industrial jobs - nearly 2,000 people - are employed in the automotive industry, producing parts that are shipped to assembly plants.
"A Chattanooga plant would have put us in pretty close proximity to a major assembly plant, which is just one more feather in your cap when you're recruiting parts suppliers," Lawson said Tuesday. "It also could have presented new opportunities for increasing production at some of our local plants to meet that new demand. We might still benefit from Toyota building its plant in Tupelo, but time will tell.
"Tupelo is a better location than Japan, but it might as well be Detroit because it's about the same distance from here. Chattanooga would have been a lot better."
Lawson noted that among the local plants the Cooper Standard plant at the Phipps Bend Industrial Park will likely be competing to provide the new Toyota plant with all of its pressure lines, fuel lines, hydraulic hoses, etc.
And Hutchinson Sealing Systems in Church Hill will likely be a strong contender to produce weather stripping and other parts for Toyota as well, Lawson said.
Where the Chattanooga plant would have benefited Hawkins County the most is in the potential for new industrial growth.
"It would have given Hawkins County and Northeast Tennessee a much better shot at attracting some of the suppliers to Toyota," Lawson said. "Hawkins County is never going to attract a major manufacturer like Toyota. But someone has to manufacture their parts that got to the assembly plant, and that's the type of industry that Hawkins County has a good shot at recruiting."