Georgetown transformed by Toyota plant,
realizes ‘smart’ growth, economic vitality
By Elizabeth Troutman
Toyota’s imprint on the community of Georgetown can be found on signs of appreciation in the windows of Main Street businesses. It’s evident in new school buildings, improved roadways and successful retail businesses that have blossomed over the past 25 years. And it is witnessed through Toyota team members who volunteer as soccer coaches (and more), in city governance and as members of church congregations.
Celebrating 25 years manufacturing its popular Camry sedan in Georgetown, Toyota has fueled economic growth in a rural community once reliant on agriculture. Toyota has brought more than 6,600 full-time jobs to Kentucky and has contributed $5.4 billion to the state’s economy.
As a result, the city is the fastest-growing in the state, with a more than 22 percent population increase in the past 10 years. It now surpasses Frankfort in population. Toyota’s investment has brought “smart” growth to a city that has managed to maintain its small-town charm during an era of rapid change.
For people like Jason Mays, however, Toyota employees are neighbors and friends. Mays, an investment banker and long-time member of the community, recently shared a packed sidewalk with a Toyota engineer and his family during the city’s Christmas parade. He estimates that at least half of the members of the congregation of the Baptist church he attends are employees of Toyota.
Toyota was the reason Mays’ family moved to Georgetown in the first place. His father Teddie works for a hauling service provider that transports cars for Toyota. Mays graduated from Scott County High School and subsequently Georgetown College, where he met his wife. He coached basketball at Georgetown College and currently serves as the chair of the city’s parks and recreation board. He has watched through the years as Toyota’s economic impact has led to what he considers positive growth for Georgetown.
“The Scott County of 1991 is not the Scott County of 2011,” Mays said, citing residential development, population growth and infrastructure improvements.
Mays, who has two children, believes the quality of living in Georgetown is second to none anywhere. The city fulfills his family’s need for quality education, cultural events and a faith community. His son now attends Georgetown College football games at the Toyota Stadium.
“It’s going to be ingrained in his mind that the Camry is something made just five miles away from his house,” Mays said.
Thad Johnson is the owner of Georgetown-based Consultant Solutions, which facilitates Japanese-American manufacturing including translation, interpretation, language and cultural training, and project management. Johnson was a Georgetown Middle School student when Toyota production started in Kentucky. He grew up making friends with the children of Japanese executive partners, taking a special interest in helping them communicate and assimilate to American culture. He learned to communicate with the Japanese at an early age and later worked in Japan as an
English teacher through the JET Program, and as an interpreter and a Japanese language teacher in the United States.
Today facilitating effective business communication between Japanese and American companies is the bulk of Johnson’s business. He and his 20 employees assist companies in translating documents, relocating and adapting to cultural differences. Although he works with companies located in Canada, Mexico and Japan, he returned to Georgetown because of a strong client base affiliated with Toyota. About 90 percent of his business comprises working with Toyota and suppliers of products and services to the manufacturing plants.
Johnson cannot imagine a Georgetown without Toyota. As a youth, he noticed as the city’s library facilities improved and residents transitioned to new careers in the industry. Johnson said just as Toyota has invested in the community, the members of the community have given back as well.
“As much as they’ve provided, the interesting thing about Toyota is how people here have been so receptive to them. I don‘t think most companies value the development of the individual. Toyota teaches you that it’s a two-way street, and people here like to actively contribute to the relationship, ” Johnson said.
Respecting the community and valuing the individual has always been part of the Toyota philosophy, according to Kim Menke, the manager of external affairs and government relations for Toyota. From supporting local nonprofits to funding scholarships at Georgetown College, Toyota has made financial investments in education and development in the community.
When Menke moved to Georgetown to help with environmental engineering for the plant in 1987, he remembers the town lacking in many modern conveniences it has today, with just a few restaurants and a Wal-Mart. He said most members of the community traveled to Lexington for resources. Since then, new schools have been built and more retail stores are in the area. The community provides opportunities for higher education with local Georgetown College and Toyota’s programs with the Bluegrass Community and Technical College.
Menke, who has “grown up” with Toyota in Georgetown, said today the highest percentage of Toyota team members reside in the city. Toyota leaders encourage employees to participate in the community through volunteerism and leadership roles. Menke said the company operates with the philosophy of a family business where people are truly the focus, which is why the company has garnered such strong loyalty locally and abroad.
“From a Toyota perspective, the focus has always been respect for people and to be part of the community,” Menke said. “Toyota is very proud to be in Georgetown. Giving back to the community is part of our responsibility as a company.”
Photo of Toyota Stadium from Georgetown College.