HUNTSVILLE — Mazda Toyota Manufacturing officials said that construction of the 3.7 million-square-foot Limestone County plant and hiring have continued during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Mark Brazeal, the vice president of administration for Mazda Toyota, said Thursday that 544 people have been hired so far, representing a mix of jobs. Those include 193 salaried/administrative staff, 76 group leaders, 66 skilled team leaders and employees, 197 production team leaders and employees and 12 students in the Federation for Advanced Manufacturing Education (FAME) program.

“We can’t start production if we don’t hire up to 4,000 team members,” Brazeal said at the MTM/AIDT assessment center in Huntsville, where interviews and hands-on assessment for production positions take place.

The company announced last month it would delay the production startup at the plant from next spring to later in 2021 due to issues resulting from the pandemic.

“We have not made any changes” to the timeline since that announcement, Brazeal said.

He said the hiring of production employees and team leaders kicked off in January and February and the company started using the hands-on assessment process for new hire candidates.

The hands-on assessments were “paused” for about six weeks as safety measures were implemented, but interviews and assessments for production personnel restarted last week, Brazeal said.

“Even though we have been in the middle of this pandemic crisis, we have continued to hire professional staff members and also our hourly team members and team leaders,” he said.

Brazeal said 156 new employees were hired in April and May.

He said several locations in the area are now being used for training new hires, including the Alabama Robotics Technology Park in Decatur and the Von Braun Center’s South Hall in Huntsville.

Jamie Hall, a project manager and adviser for production hiring, said no applications are now being taken for the production side as the company continues to process those candidates that had already applied.

According to Hall, the company plans to start taking applications again for production team leaders in August and for production employees in October. He’s still projecting that the company will need 40,000 applicants to be able to fill the facility’s 3,200 production jobs.

Brazeal said construction also “paused” on April 5 for a couple of days after the state’s first stay-at-home order to conduct a safety evaluation of the construction jobs at the site and determine ways for workers to meet social distancing guidelines.

But, “we never really stopped construction,” he said. “A couple of weeks into April everything was running back full speed” with construction at the site.

Construction will peak in July, he said, with the number of construction workers at the Mazda Toyota plant and the on-site suppliers’ facilities reaching about 4,000.

Beginning in August, the number of construction workers will drop to about 300 to 500 per month “until everything is finally complete in about March of 2021," he said.

The assessment center, which uses multiple stations, has the capacity to process 36 candidates on a daily basis.

“We’ve reduced that to 12, so we can keep proper social distancing,” Brazeal said. “Right now, that’s not having an impact on our hiring plan.”

Enhanced safety measures at the center include plexiglass partitions between job candidates and interview staff, temperature checks, mandatory face coverings, social distancing and an increased facility sanitation schedule.

According to Mazda Toyota spokeswoman Toni Eberhart, as of May 7, the company had met the following construction milestones at the facility: roofing, 100% complete; siding, 99% complete; fire protection, 99% complete; floor slabs, 100% complete; electrical, 75% complete; and piping/ductwork, 90% complete.

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