DENNIS SEID: Toyota offers opportunity,no guarantee, for workers

By Dennis Seid / NEMS Daily Journal

What characteristics do people need to become a “team member” for Toyota?
A good work ethic, along with flexibility, creativity and energy.
And, said Brian Howard, a 20-plus-year veteran of Toyota Motor Manufacturing Kentucky in Georgetown, “problem-solving skills are a must.”
Howard is among the thousands of team members – Toyota’s term for “employees” – at Toyota Kentucky, where the Japanese automaker opened its first North American plant in 1986.
So Howard knows what it takes to work for Toyota.
At 7 million square feet, Toyota Kentucky is the automaker’s biggest facility in North America and one of the biggest in the world. By comparison, Toyota Mississippi in Blue Springs will be a mere 2 million square feet.
It is projected to employ some 2,000 people when it’s fully operational sometime in the spring of 2012. By fall of next year, a good many of them will already be working, rolling out Corolla sedans.
That’s news we can use, with the region suffering from more than 13 percent unemployment.
Since announcing last week that it had started accepting applications online for TMMMS jobs, Toyota has gotten thousands of inquiries.
Adding 2,000 new jobs – plus another 2,000 supplier jobs – is nothing to scoff at. Jobs are jobs, and that’s especially critical in today’s economy.
Critics say that luring companies and paying for the jobs through hundreds of millions in dollars in incentives by using taxpayer money is inappropriate. Corporate welfare, they say, is no way to do business.
Yet, for better or worse, our economic model has created this modus operandi. To the low-cost, incentivized area go the jobs.
If we don’t do it, proponents say, somebody else will, and we’ll lose out on thousands of jobs that will generate millions in payroll. That money, they say, will go back into the local economy.
How would we have felt if Arkansas had landed the Toyota plant instead? There would have been much gnashing of teeth over how we failed to land such a prize. Critics would have said state and local officials had failed to attract such a huge project.
But what’s really disappointing to hear are some of the disparaging comments about the quality of our work force.
I think many critics underestimate what we’re capable of doing. Yes, building a couch and building a Corolla are different. But that doesn’t mean our people aren’t capable of doing either job.
Give them a little credit, please.
Toyota and its suppliers, however, won’t absorb all the job losses we’ve had or will have. Toyota is not the savior.
The automotive industry does offer the region an opportunity for the future – but it’s not a guarantee. Nothing lasts forever. So our leaders must continue to pursue other industries and jobs and to keep our current and future workers prepared for whatever may come.
The next step depends on the workers. They, too, have to step up to the plate to do what it takes to stay relevant.
It’s called moving forward.
Contact Business Editor Dennis Seid at (662) 678-1578 or dennis.seid@djournal.com.