To attract and retain healthy and happy employees, Toyota Industrial Equipment Manufacturing has moved boldly where few industrial manufacturers have ventured.

The company on Wednesday welcomed executives and company associates to its newly opened T+Rex Recreational Complex, a fitness complex with a health care component built specifically to provide state-of-the-art exercise and recreational opportunities on the Toyota campus south of Columbus in the Woodside Industrial Park.

Before Wednesday’s ceremonies and open house, Tony Miller, senior vice president for Toyota Industrial Equipment Manufacturing, mentioned he played some basketball at the center at 4:30 a.m. that day with some other Toyota executives and a few associates he had not become acquainted with yet.

In fact, at any time at the new facility, an employee might find himself or herself working out next to Toyota Material Handling North America President and CEO Brett Wood, who was emcee for the opening of the facility, or Takafumi “Alex” Zensho, TIEM president and chief executive officer.

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Miller said the 4:30 a.m. basketball games that already are becoming commonplace aren’t about keeping score. It’s more about having a lot of fun. The facility has regular operating hours with staff for employees, but is also open 24/7 with access by employee ID badge.

“We’ve had a lot of positive comments about the building so far,” Miller said. “It’s an opportunity to get to know people you might never have the opportunity to talk to in a usual workday.”

Forgive people if they wonder whether “T+Rex” refers to the extinct ferocious dinosaur by that name. But there’s nothing prehistoric the center. As for the name, “T” stands for Toyota, the “R” is for recreational and the “EX” is the last two letters of the word “complex,” Wood said.

An industrial design

Designed as a complete wellness center by project architects Andrew Schaewe and Nathan Smitson, of Ghafari Associates LLC, Indianapolis, the facility was built by Pepper Construction, also of Indianapolis. Just after the construction work finished, Toyota employees had their holiday celebration in the gym and then returned Wednesday to explore the facility.

Schaewe and Smitson said their design throughout the facility is about using common materials in uncommon ways.

“You are seeing iron when you’re pumping iron,” Schaewe said. “You’re seeing the steel structure of the building.”

Red carpet insets lead employees in a path to various exercise machines, with different patterns in the texture.

Schaewe said the process of working with Toyota was his favorite part of the project.

“The leaders at Toyota set a high bar and we gave it our all,” he said. “We wanted to make this an inviting space.”

The 35,000-square-foot building features two basketball courts, with a running track circling above.

Toyota’s new and spacious health center and pharmacy is off the front lobby and a set of stairs and elevator leads to the second floor, which features exercise equipment from stair climbers to treadmills to water rowers and a large free-weight room nearby.

A separate room has bikes for spin classes and room for Zumba and other fitness programs. A physical therapy wing is available for employees who need continuing care.

The popularity of recreational games is also noted with a room with a ping pong table, pool table and an Xbox with a screen on the wall for gamers.

The two basketball courts have decals identifying them as Columbus court, with a star showing the Toyota campus’ location, and Takahama Court, where the company’s home base is located in Japan.

Toyota officials tried out some basketball courts before choosing a floor similar to that of Columbus North High School.

The estimated 1,400 Toyota employee workforce may use the facility along with family members who are on the company’s health plan — an estimated 3,600 people, the company said.

“Associates stop me out on the floor and say thank you,” said Steve Pride, director human resources, training and customs compliance at Toyota Industrial Equipment Manufacturing Inc. “You can’t ask for anything more than that.”

Productivity benefits

Wood told the group gathered for the ribbon-cutting that workers who spend 30 to 60 minutes a day exercising will have a 15 percent increase in productivity. Long-term investments in exercise leads to fewer sick days taken by employees and there’s less likely to be the mid-afternoon lull in attentiveness, he said.

Company officials have decided to keep the monetary investment in the facility confidential, Miller said.

The facility is part of a larger $16 million project on the Toyota campus announced in 2015 which added a new two-story office building, a new cafeteria, a new storm shelter and locker room and the expansion space for Toyota’s on-site medical center for associates and their families, the company said.

Toyota officials are describing the commitment to health, fitness and medical care as a win-win for the company and its workforce, which will result in healthier employees who are more productive.

Josh Linnemann, TIEM’s director of design engineering, production engineering, information technology, said the company’s invitation to welcome family members to use the facility is especially appealing. He has already spent time there with his children, who are already planning their activities at the center for summer break.

“Our family lives just 10 minutes from here,” he said. “So this is free, right in our backyard. I will be using it almost every day.”

Michelle Nichter, who works as a dealer sales support manager for Toyota Material Handling, year after year has pledged to eat healthier and start exercising.

“Within a few weeks, the good intentions fizzle and I fall back into my old habits,” she said, however.

But now, she is expressing a different outlook.

Nichter, who will be turning 50 in November, wants 2017 to be a milestone year.

“I’m so energized and motivated by T+REX,” she said. “The facility has far exceeded my expectations and is nicer than any other gym I’ve paid to join. We are so fortunate to work for a company that cares about the health and well-being of their associates and their families.”

Nichter said she would probably use the indoor track, the weight room and the exercise equipment. She is particularly grateful for the family aspect of the facility and remarked it was good to see the youth playing basketball in the gym, some with their parents.

“It’s a whole family center,” she said. “We’re very fortunate to have this top-notch facility.”

The T+Rex Health Center and Pharmacy is being operated in partnership with Cerner, based in Kansas City, Kansas.

Toyota’s former health center in Columbus also was on-site, but was in cramped quarters. The break room was a storage closet and the facilities lacked a lab area.

Now, users will be greeted by a series of care suites, each with private areas in the room which may be curtained off for consultations, and some rooms with a monitor on the wall where the patient can see what is being charted or receive instructions visually, nurse practitioner Janet Callon said.

The large rooms offer space for entire families to be in the room, and curtains to separate the patient from the other people in the room during exams or procedures. Nurse practitioners and physicians now have a spacious break room looking out to a pond behind the building, a big change from their former quarters.

About 85 percent of Toyota staff use the company health care option as their provider, she said.

To get Toyota employees moving and engaged in the new facility, Miller announced the T+Rex fitness challenge, an eight-week competition in which Toyota employees will earn points based on their weekly activities at the center.

Winners will be announced in May when Toyota celebrates 50 years of building forklifts in Columbus, he said.

Miller wrapped up his message to employees by borrowing a quote from a legendary UCLA basketball coach.

“And remember, as John Wooden said, ‘When you improve a little each day, eventually big things happen.’ ”

T+Rex amenities

The new T+Rex recreational complex features:

  • Two full-size basketball courts, one named for Columbus and another named for Takahama, Japan, Toyota’s home-base. Volleyball is also offered.
  • A walking and running track which circles above the two basketball courts.
  • A state-of-the-art exercise machine room featuring treadmills, ellipticals, stair steppers, rowers and more, lined with televisions. Fitness equipment such as fitness balls and stretch stations are also located there
  • A separate workout room for spin classes with bikes provide and for fitness classes such as Zumba.
  • A free-weight room with a variety of weight benches.
  • The T+Rex Health Center and Pharmacy, where employees receive health care.
  • A rehabilitation area where employees may work with a physical therapist.
  • A games room featuring a pool table, ping pong table and an Xbox.
  • Locker room facilities for men and women.

Toyota's footprint in Columbus

The companies on the Toyota Industrial Equipment Manufacturing Inc. campus include:

TIEM — Toyota Industrial Equipment Manufacturing, the manufacturing arm of the material handling business, employing about 1,100 workers.

TMHU — Toyota Material Handling USA, Inc., sales, marketing and distribution arm of the material-handling business, employing about 175 workers.

TINA — Toyota Industries North America, Inc., an American holding company providing shared professional services to all North American entities of Toyota Industries Corp. with about 30 workers in the fields of information technology, accounting/finance, tax, internal audit, legal and human resources.

TMHNA — Toyota Material Handling North America is the management framework for operational control of the material handling business in North America, which includes six executives.

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Julie McClure is assistant managing editor of The Republic. She can be reached at jmcclure@therepublic.com or (812) 379-5631.