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Toyota plant continues to grow

Feb. 11, 2008 @ 07:28 AM

BUFFALO, W.Va. -- The Toyota Motor Manufacturing plant has cemented its position as the top automotive employer in the state, and its officials are looking forward to what new or redesigned models Toyota might bring this year.

The last several months brought a new product, a 6-speed transmission, for the powertrain plant, which makes engines and transmissions for several Toyota vehicles.

The related $120 million investment yielded an additional 150 jobs at the Putnam County plant and brings its total to 1,400, said Jeff Moore, vice president of Toyota Manufacturing of West Virginia.

In March of last year, Toyota ranked 42nd among the state's list of biggest employers, which means last summer's expansion is likely to boost it higher in the rankings this year. The plant, which the company broke ground for in 1996 and employed 300 initially, wasn't among the top 100 employers in 2000.

Toyota's impact on Buffalo and Putnam County has been far-reaching. Marty Chapman, Putnam County Chamber of Commerce president, said the plant's annual payroll, now at $75 million, has a tremendous economic impact on the area as employees spend their income at businesses throughout the community.

"And as they continue to grow, they'll continue to have an impact on Putnam County," Chapman said, also citing the tax revenues from the plant.

"Also, they do so much for the community. The school system, people in the area that's donated to through their donations or by their employees' donations. They are the epitome of a good corporate citizen."

Lisa Lovejoy of Milton, a Toyota employee for eight years, speaks highly of her time with the company, particularly about having stable employment.

"At my previous job, we got laid off all the time," said the wife and mother of one. "Here you have your benefits, your insurance. You're guaranteed a job here pretty much. They have outside functions for Toyota members and their family, bowling, movies, company picnics and a holiday party. It's really nice."

From a state perspective, West Virginia Department of Commerce Secretary Kelley Goes said there is no measure for the state to compare the plant's impact, considering Toyota's investments have been more than $1 billion since 1996.

"We're awfully proud to have them in West Virginia and in Putnam County," Goes said.

Just as important for the state, she said, is the plant's impact on economic development efforts.

"It's such a great marketing point for West Virginia that they've chosen to be here," Goes said.

In a recent advertising supplement, the agency touts the state's growth in the past two decades in the motor vehicle parts and equipment industry. According to the most recent report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, West Virginia ranked fourth nationally in percentage growth in motor vehicle parts manufacturing employment and ninth in absolute employment growth, Goes said. The state is home to nearly 30 companies in this field with more than 3,000 employees. The Toyota company now accounts for nearly half of those jobs.

When Goes talks about the Mountain State's pluses, she mentions central location, readily available raw materials, low utility rates, excellent transportation system and highly productive manufacturing work force.

The latter attribute seems borne out by the Toyota plant's performance.

Toyota is well known for its efficiency, and the 2007 Harbour Report, which ranks automakers' productivity, places Toyota No. 1 in total manufacturing productivity.

Its Buffalo plant also has a strong record. Among powertrain plants, it ranked first in productivity for five years straight before placing second in 2006. The 2007 rankings aren't out yet.

Company officials give plenty of credit to employees.

"They're really setting us up for success," Moore said. "We've got great folks. I think they really enjoy helping us solve problems. They've really engaged in helping us get better."

Laquita Harris, external affairs coordinator for the Buffalo plant, explained that in order for the plant to maintain its success, "All 1,400 employees are needed."

Part of keeping the Buffalo plant busy is that it supplies transmissions for the Toyota Camry and an engine for the Toyota Corolla. They ranked No. 1 and No. 3, respectively, in the list of top-selling cars in the United States last year.

Sales of the Corolla, however, have slipped recently, and auto analysts note that it hasn't had a major makeover in several years.

But Moore noted that the launch of a redesigned Corolla later this year as a 2009 model and the new six-cylinder Venza revealed at the recent 2008 North American International Auto Show in Detroit give him cause for continued optimism.

"It's going to be an exciting year," he said. "The great thing is we've got great team members."

He also acknowledged the changing trends in the automobile market, which softened overall in the last year.

"Every business has to be able to respond to market fluctuations," Moore said. "We supply production to eight different vehicle types. With that broad range, the market may go up and down some, but we have the flexibility to adjust to those market changes."

Toyota plant facts

SIZE: 230-acre site with 1.8 million square feet under roof.

EMPLOYEES: More than 1,400, with 90 percent being West Virginia natives. Eighty-six percent are male, 14 percent female and 4 percent minority.

PAYROLL: $75 million annually.

EXPORTS: Products from the plant are exported to Canada and Japan.

DONATIONS: The plant has made more than $5 million in donations since 1996.

TOURS: Tours are offered for students and community groups.

ENVIRONMENTAL EFFORTS: The plant sends zero waste to landfill since January 2003 and has a recycling program for paper, aluminum and steel. It is also a Wetlands of Winfield education facility.

PRODUCTS:

  • 4-cylinder engine
  • V6 engine (2GR)
  • 5-Speed automatic transmission
  • 6-Speed automatic transmission
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