Sen. Jay Rockefeller

By SEN. JAY ROCKEFELLER

A little over 10 years ago, the site that became the Toyota Buffalo plant was nothing more than a sea of cornfields.

At the time, we all certainly hoped that our Toyota plant would serve as an economic engine for Putnam County, but few of us could truly imagine how the plant would generate the thriving West Virginia automotive manufacturing industry that we have today.

This week, we are celebrating the 10th anniversary of the Buffalo plant, but the story actually begins 20 years ago. It begins in 1986 when I was formally introduced to Dr. Shoichiro Toyoda, Chairman of Toyota.

I had gotten to know Dr. Toyoda's father, the company's founder, when I was a student in Japan in the 1960s, but I had never met his son. During our first meeting and in subsequent meetings, I suggested West Virginia as a potential site for a future Toyota plant.

I knew then that it would take years to find the right Toyota project for our state, but I was determined to get our foot in the door. Over the next few years, during West Virginia trade missions to Japan and during Japanese missions to the U.S., I kept in touch with Dr. Toyoda and other Toyota executives.

Courting Toyota was not always an easy endeavor. Many in the company and outside thought a plant in West Virginia would be a mistake for Toyota. They thought that transportation of materials and people to and from Buffalo would be too difficult. They thought that West Virginians could not do the work.

But Dr. Toyoda was never a naysayer. He saw what others did not – a strong, smart, and fiercely loyal work force and a great place to do business. Although it took many years and many meetings with Dr. Toyoda, meetings I now look back upon fondly, Toyota finally decided to place a production facility in West Virginia, and we held our first of several major groundbreaking celebrations here in 1996.

Now, Toyota's plant in Buffalo, West Virginia has gained national and international renown. It is the single most productive engine and transmission facility in all of North America for three years running, according to the Harbour Report, the auto industry authority on manufacturing efficiency and productivity. Toyota has implemented more recommendations from its Buffalo work force than from most of its other facilities. In fact, other, much larger, cities around the country are envious of our tremendous success. In The Buffalo News recently, we learned that Buffalo, N.Y., is looking longingly at Buffalo, W.V., and its enormous success in the automotive industry.

Toyota is now the second-largest automobile producer in the world, and in West Virginia alone, the company has expanded six times. Our plant has also spawned a number of automotive suppliers around the state. Toyota has been the anchor to what is now a well-developed supply chain for auto parts, serving not only Toyota, but also other car manufacturers in the U.S. All of this growth has taken West Virginia, in just ten short years, to its position today as a major center of American automotive manufacturing.

The credit for these great accomplishments goes, first and foremost, to the men and women of West Virginia, some of whom drive hours a day to work at this plant. But the management at Buffalo, at Toyota's U.S. headquarters, and at Toyota's world headquarters have given these workers the tools they need to succeed and excel. They have given our West Virginia workers the opportunities they deserve.

The enormous success that the Buffalo plant has become for West Virginia was a vision that was hard to see when we were wading through those rows of corn. But it is a vision that has fundamentally changed the economic landscape of our state and region forever.

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