Terminator”-like music thundered through the speakers of the small auditorium as a dividing wall rose slowly to reveal shiny orange forklifts neatly encircled by pale spotlights.
Tom Lego, customer center manager at the Columbus Toyota forklift plant, knew the presentation was a little over the top.
“Thanks for indulging us. We get a little excited,” he said, eliciting laughs from the audience, which included Toyota executives and Columbus Mayor Kristen Brown.
But the excitement at Toyota Industrial Equipment Manufacturing is rising for good reason: In about a month, work crews will break ground on a new multimillion dollar, 21,000-square-foot expansion to house nearly 100 additional professional employees from sister company Toyota Material Handling USA.
The local operations already house about 800 employees for Toyota Industrial, focused on forklift production, and another 60 from Toyota Material Handling.
Toyota Material Handling announced in April that it would move its North American headquarters, including about 70 jobs, from Irvine, Calif., to Columbus over the next few years.
Jeff Rufener, president of Toyota Material Handling, was part of the vanguard of that relocation, arriving here in July.
Rufener said the consolidation will improve communication among the Toyota Material Handling employees who are now working in Columbus and Irvine, and it also will foster better cooperation among Toyota Material Handling’s distribution/marketing/sales staff and Toyota Industrial Equipment’s production staff.
Also, Rufener said, most of the company’s suppliers and customers are east of the Mississippi.
“Columbus ... has a great business environment,” he said.
The consolidation will present local job opportunities, Toyota officials said.
Brett Wood, president and CEO of Toyota Material Handling North America, said he expects that only about 30 percent of the employees in Irvine will move to Columbus.
The majority of the employees will remain in California, which, Wood and Rufener said, the company understands. Some THMU employees want to remain in California because they don’t want to uproot their families or lose their friends.
“There’s lots to think about,” Rufener said.
That also means 70 percent of the positions — salaried professionals in sales, marketing, parts and service — have to be refilled in Columbus.
On a plant tour, Toyota employees provided an overview of the production process — which includes welding, machining, assembly, painting, inspection and distribution — and told Mayor Brown about how employees try to improve their processes and about the on-site medical clinic for employees, including temps, and their families.
Employees throughout the plant got visual and auditory cues about the status of their production. Large signs displayed the number of units a line had produced so far, and speakers would blare a jingle — a children’s song or an ice cream truck version of a classical piece such as Beethoven’s “Für Elise” — to indicate that work on a line had been stopped and needed attention.
Brown told Toyota officials that the plant and the company’s success were “impressive.”
The plant produces more than 30,000 forklifts a year. Sixty-five base models include internal combustion and electric propulsion.
“Over the last decade Toyota’s market share has increased 66 percent in the U.S. market,” Lego said.
Since 2002, Toyota has been the market share leader, he said.
Wood said the company has set aggressive targets for 2020 and focuses not on being No. 1 but on improving product, services, talent management and its communities.
“We’re growing fast, he said. “In today’s challenging times, we are making the investment into future growth.”
By next October, the company will open a forklift manufacturing plant in Brazil. The Columbus plant will be the first plant outside of Japan to function as the “mother factory,” which initially will include shipping frames, power trains and fork masts.
“We’re constantly developing new models, new technology,” Wood said. “A lot of that is done here in Columbus.”
Think your friends should see this? Share it with them!comments powered by Disqus
All content copyright ©2013 The Republic, a division of Home News Enterprises unless otherwise noted.