Toyota Motor Manufacturing West Virginia is investing another $210 million in its engine and transmission assembly plant in Putnam County. That’s good news for several reasons.
First is the announcement itself. Toyota announced Feb. 18 that it will upgrade existing engine production and create 100 jobs so it can increase assembly capacity of its four-cylinder engine line. The new jobs are needed for a new third shift for RAV4 engine production. That will allow the plant to produce an additional 5,900 engines per month and more than 70,000 a year. Total employment at the plant will be around 2,000. The upgrades and additional hiring are expected to be completed before the end of next year.
In a state where the employment situation always ranks at the top of public concerns, that is great news.
The new investment also shows Toyota is confident that it will find enough workers who can produce world-class engines. If Toyota has this much confidence in our labor market, then other companies should, too.
Another key to this announcement is that it brings Toyota’s total investment in its Putnam County operation to $1.8 billion. The plant started production in December 1998 when it produced four-cylinder engines only. That has since been expanded to include other drive train components, too.
It seems Toyota announces an expansion or upgrade at the Putnam County plant every year or two. That’s good, because when Toyota stops announcing it will replace old production lines with new ones or announces it will cut back employment, that’s when pessimism moves in.
That may happen someday, but for now, that day appears far off. Good jobs locally — that’s what people want, and Toyota continues to deliver.
The announcement does raise another question, however. If Toyota can do so well in Putnam County, why aren’t other major companies lined up to do likewise?
There have been some developments in West Virginia these past few years, such as the Procter & Gamble factory and the Macy’s warehouse in Martinsburg and natural gas processing facilities in Doddridge and Wetzel counties. But we need more, especially in the southern part of the state.
Coal-producing counties usually have terrain that is not suited for large-scale factories, and their access to major transportation corridors is limited. However, they are close enough to the Huntington and Charleston areas so that they could reap some benefits as new industries move into those metro areas.
Toyota’s growth shows that we can compete internationally when things fall into place. The placement of international companies at the A. Michael Perry Prichard Industrial Park is proof of that. How do we build on these successes and remain on the radar of domestic and international companies looking to build new U.S.-based manufacturing operations? That’s a question to be considered as the Legislature ponders overhauling the state’s tax system, and it’s one that should be on the minds of state and local development officials constantly.