Toyota marks W.Va. milestone
BUFFALO — Toyota Motor Manufacturing West Virginia celebrated a milestone Wednesday -- the production of its 10 millionth powertrain — and several West Virginia and Toyota dignitaries gathered at the sprawling Putnam County plant to participate in the ceremony.
It's the first plant outside of Japan to reach that milestone, said Millie Marshall, senior vice president at TMMWV, and that's a tribute to the 1,300 highly skilled, hardworking "team members" in West Virginia, she and others said.
"I am humbled and proud of our team members' accomplishments," said Yoji "Yogi" Suzuki, president of TMMWV. The mission when Toyota first came to West Virginia in 1998 was to nurture Toyota's growth in North American by building four-cylinder engines, he said. It now makes different types of four- and six-cylinder engines and automatic transmissions -- all groups of components generating automotive power that are referred to as "powertrains."
According to the company, every 20 seconds, a Toyota vehicle rolls off a North American assembly line with a powertrain product built at Toyota Motor Manufacturing West Virginia. Put together, the 10 million powertrains manufactured in Buffalo would top 1 billion horsepower, Suzuki said.
Participating in Wednesday's celebration were Toyota officials Shoichiro Toyoda, honorary chairman of Toyota Motor Corporation, as well as Osamu Nagata, president and CEO of Toyota Motor Engineering and Manufacturing, North America, and James Lentz, CEO of the North American Region.
U.S. Sens. Jay Rockefeller and Joe Manchin, both D-W.Va., attended the event, along with Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin and a representative of Shelley Moore Capito's office.
Rockefeller has long been credited with helping sell West Virginia and its attributes in a way that enticed Toyota to set up shop in the Mountain State, and on Wednesday, he said he was profoundly honored to be invited to celebrate with them. To him, the plant signifies pride in West Virginia and pride in his relationship with Japan, which sparked a dream back in 1986 when he first met Toyoda.
In 1998, the company started with a $400 million investment in West Virginia and about 300 employees, Rockefeller said. In 15 years, it has had seven expansions, bringing Toyota's total investment in West Virginia to $1.3 billion, and now has about 1,300 employees. Annually, they build 650,000 engines and more than 520,000 automatic transmissions that are used in nine different vehicles -- all with an unwavering commitment to safety and quality, Suzuki said.
Manchin described the plant's employees, referred to as team members, as the "greatest selling tool we have in West Virginia. ... I brag on you everywhere I go," he said.
"Toyota would not have made this investment without the quality of work you have done as West Virginians," Manchin said.
"Toyota is much bigger than this building and plant," he said. "It's about team and family, and when you have that type of atmosphere, good things happen."
The company has worked to share wealth with the surrounding community and state, Marshall said in announcing a donation of $32,500 to 13 area schools in Putnam, Mason, Cabell and Kanawha counties to advance their manufacturing technician training. Since the plant's founding, it's contributed $6.5 million to local organizations, she said.
What Toyota has done for the state certainly has had a ripple effect, said John Zitter, president of Sterling Supply Company in Huntington. Sterling Supply sells cutting tools, abrasives and operative supplies to Toyota, and is a much stronger company for it, Zitter said.
"We're very grateful they've come to West Virginia and provided jobs and economic development," Zitter said. "They're a big part of our business. We're not a large company, but we'd be a lot smaller if not for Toyota. Every day, we thank heaven for them. We're grateful to Sen. Rockefeller for bringing them to us."
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