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Third Toyota plant in city?

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A Toyota Industrial Equipment Manufacturing executive has hinted that a Toyota Plant 3 could be in Columbus’ future.

At a Columbus Board of Zoning Appeals meeting July 22, Brian Webber, a senior engineer of facilities at Toyota, received approval for the company to have a gravel parking area built for semitrailers while a new paved lot is under construction.

The Toyota Industrial plant, at 3030 Barker Drive, needs parking space for the semis that transport inventory to and from the Toyota plant, he said. The gravel lot would have room for about 40 semis and would be used for 60 days to two years, Webber told the board.

Webber also told board members that the semis would eventually be moved to the paved lot, with the gravel lot becoming the site for Toyota’s Plant 3.

Toyota Material Handling President Jeff Rufener said he couldn’t comment on any future expansion plans because they aren’t specific enough at the moment but said the company is certainly reaching capacity in terms of its production.

“We just added some capacity this summer because we were running out. That’s going to come online in September and October,” he said. “We have every reason to believe that we’ll continue to grow.”

The paved lot could hold as many as 96 semi trucks.

Toyota’s success with its forklift plant in the Woodside Industrial Park is causing a need for production and process improvements, Webber told the board.

“We can’t make them fast enough,” Webber said.

City-county planning director Jeff Bergman said he was not aware of any active plans for a Toyota expansion but said the company only wanted the gravel lot it was requesting temporarily so that any future uses, such as a third plant, would be possible.

Toyota senior marketing leader Steve Tadd could not give a timeline for any Toyota expansion, but said it’s certainly something the company is considering.

“There are preliminary plans being worked on,” he said. “Supply is as big as it’s ever in. Demand is strong. Ultimately, looking to the future, we believe that growth will continue.”

Toyota Industrial specializes in making forklifts and is located next to a sister plant, Toyota Material Handling USA, which opened its new North American headquarters in Columbus in 2013.

Toyota produces about 32,000 forklifts annually and employs about 1,000 people at its Columbus campus. Toyota Industrial employs 750 full-time and 250 part-time employees, and the Toyota Material Handling USA employs another 53.

Toyota began producing forklifts in 1956 and started exporting them in 1959. The company produced its first forklifts in Columbus in 1990. Since then, the campus has undergone

12 expansions at a cost of nearly $117 million, Rufener said.

The Columbus factory will produce its 500,000th forklift soon, Rufener added.

Toyota Industrial’s forklift campus covers more than 1 million square feet on 126 acres east of Interstate 65 in Woodside Industrial Park.

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