What a difference 25 years can make
By Judy Clabes
The impact of Toyota’s decision 25 years ago to locate its first North American automobile manufacturing facility in Kentucky can be measured in many ways. There are the obvious, tangible ways – jobs, payroll, investment, economic impact, philanthropy. And there are the not-so-obvious – the ones that changed a state’s perception of itself, that changed fundamentally the kinds of jobs Kentuckians could aspire to have, that changed cultural, ethnic and national prejudices, that pushed an insular state into a global arena.
In truth, Toyota’s impact on Kentucky is beyond measure – as the sum of all these things is far greater than its parts.
In the environment that was Kentucky back in 1986, the state had a big-enough adjustment to the idea of its first – and still only – woman governor, Martha Layne Collins. Then to learn she was doggedly pursuing a Japanese automobile plant, in impossibly crowded company . . .and to see her succeed. . . Some of the worst of our qualities came out, mostly as undercurrent. In the reality of the sheer success of the pursuit, it dissipated – and we learned some powerful lessons.
The governor had plenty of help, of course, in the pursuit of the Toyota prize. But her personal ownership of the Toyoda family relationship tipped the scale. Still today, Martha Layne Collins is an honorary consul general of Japan in Kentucky. Simply put, they really liked her.
Viewing the video of the May 5, 1986 groundbreaking ceremony of the Georgetown plant is worth a look today, as are the black-and-white photos from the day – for their perspective. Note the younger Sens. Wendell Ford and Mitch McConnell on dias and the then-Lt. Gov. Steve Beshear in line at the dirt-turning.
Toyota’s President, Dr. Shoichiro Toyoda, speaks of “warm-hearted cooperation” in seeking “a true partnership with the people of the United States.” He had come fresh from a Kentucky Derby experience with the governor as he remarked on Kentucky as the place with the “best race horses” that would now become the “home of the best cars in the world.”
Fast-forward 25 years – they almost go that fast! – and we can see even more clearly the wisdom of the leadership that aimed for “better lives for Kentucky families,” “more and better jobs for thousands of Kentuckians,” and the symbolism of “breaking ground for a new economic era for Kentucky . . .making Kentucky part of the global economy.”
From 1986’s “Oh what a feeling!” to 2011’s “It’s ready, are you?” marketing slogans, the Kentucky and Toyota partnership has flourished.
Today’s Toyota Motor Manufacturing Kentucky is the automaker’s largest facility in North America, though its U.S. holdings have expanded dramatically. Kentucky is now the #3 vehicle-producing state in the country, behind only Michigan and Ohio.
There are more than 100 auto-supplier plants around the state, creating thousands of jobs. Five hundred North American suppliers provide 85% of the parts for Georgetown production. All in all, Toyota’s suppliers and vendors account for about 12,000 additional jobs.
Nearly 7000 full-time “team members” are employed at the Georgetown facility, and they represent the majority of Kentucky’s 120 counties.
Toyota’s total investment in Kentucky: a whopping $5.4 billion. Its philanthropic give-back to Kentucky counties where its team members live: a substantial $40 million-plus.
TMMK has the capacity to produce 500,000 vehicles and engines a year, Kentucky-made and Kentucky-proud. That’s about 2000 vehicles a day, at full capacity.
From the first Camry in 1988 to Camry, Camry Hybrid, Avalon, Solara, and Venza as well as V6 and 4-cylinder engines and engine components, Kentuckians with their strong work ethic and innate loyalty have proven capable stewards of Toyota quality.
Just two years after becoming the first North American plant to build a hybrid, TMMK made its 100,000th Camry Hybrid on November 26, 2010.
As we Celebrate Toyota as a community, KyForward will continue to tell the Toyota story in all its richness and fullness over the next two months. Stay tuned to the Celebrate Toyota! special section, let us hear your own stories and comments (firstname.lastname@example.org) and join us on this journey to celebrate a transformative partnership for Kentucky– with a “foreign” automaker that is now just one of us.
Next: Will James started as a “team member” on the production line at TMMK in 1987. Today, as president, he runs the place.