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RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — A decision Wednesday by Toyota and Mazda to build a joint car factory in Alabama instead of North Carolina was received as another economic miss for one of the few Southeast states never to land a modern carmaker.

The Japanese automakers announced plans to build a $1.6 billion plant in Alabama that will eventually employ about 4,000 people.

North Carolina has recruited and failed to land factories over the past quarter-century that BMW, Mercedes, Volkswagen, Volvo and others instead built in other Southeast states. The region, where unions are weaker and labor costs lower than the U.S. auto industry’s Detroit roots, has seen new factories multiply.

“It is bitterly disappointing to be the runner-up for the new Toyota-Mazda facility,” state Senate leader Phil Berger said.

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North Carolina offered the automakers more than $1.5 billion in tax breaks and other incentives, including most of 1,800 acres (730 hectares) of land at an industrial site about 20 miles (32 kilometers) south of Greensboro, state Commerce Secretary Tony Copeland said. Despite one of the largest offers in state history, the state couldn’t get around the fact that it was too far outside Toyota’s existing network of parts suppliers, he said.

“They already have a supply chain in place that they are utilizing,” Copeland said.

Berger praised Copeland and Gov. Roy Cooper for their efforts to coax the plant to North Carolina.

“They worked closely and transparently with the legislature on this project and did everything that could be done to close the deal,” Berger said in a statement.

Alabama offered an incentive package of $370 million in tax abatements and investment rebates, officials there said. That figure does not include state workforce training or a local incentive package still being finalized.

But state leaders said they were confident that North Carolina’s history of improving the state’s business climate for all was sound policy.

State Rep. Jeff Collins, who represents an area near one of the four massive tracts of vacant land assembled to offer huge employers like the Toyota/Mazda plant, said the state’s fiscal conservatism has encouraged substantial hiring by small- and medium-sized businesses that will never make headlines but generate most employment.

“I know that 80 percent of the hiring that’s done in the United States is done by small businesses, not large businesses. Our employment situation has gotten extremely better over the last six or so years. We now have as strong an economy as anybody in the United States, so obviously what we’re doing is working, whether it’s through huge companies, middle-sized companies or small companies,” said Collins, a Rocky Mount Republican. “That’s never going to make headlines, but that’s where most of the employment is done.”

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Follow Emery P. Dalesio at http://twitter.com/emerydalesio. His work can be found at http://bigstory.ap.org/content/emery-p-dalesio