At Least The Japanese Understand

The Japanese are renowned for their work ethic. They don’t impress easily on that score.

But some of them have been impressed by the work ethic of a select group of Americans — right here in West Virginia.

It can only be supposed that, a few years back, executives in the Toyota and Hino vehicle companies had not been exposed to stereotypes about Mountain State residents. You know, the ones about us being lazy, stupid, mean freeloaders.

Whatever their reasoning, both companies took chances on us. In 1998, Toyota opened an engine and transmission plant in Buffalo, Putnam County. About 10 years ago, Hino established a medium-duty truck assembly facility in Williamstown, Wood County.

During the past week, Toyota announced it will spend $115 million to expand the Buffalo plant, while Hino revealed a major expansion in Wood County.

Both firms are in the business of making as much money as they can. Part of the corporate formula for that is hiring the smartest, most hard-working people you can find. Hino and Toyota found them here.

When it opened, the Buffalo plant had about 300 workers. It has somewhere in excess of 1,600 now. Within a little more than a decade after it opened, the facility had turned out more than 10 million drivetrains.

For several years, some analysts rated it as the most productive engine plant in the United States. And, as I recall, it has won awards for quality within the Toyota global network.

Hino opened its West Virginia success story in 2007, with about 75 employees at Williamstown. The workforce there has grown to more than 300.

During the plant’s first decade, production there increased by 500 percent. Workers found ways to cut the time it took to finish a truck from 42 minutes to 11.

No wonder Hino and Toyota are expanding in the Mountain State. They’ve found a workforce that not only lives up to their expectations, but sometimes beats them.

No doubt some of the jobs at the two plants are relatively simple. But like most manufacturing, car and truck plants increasingly require intelligence and certain skills. Clearly, workforces with those qualities are available in the Buffalo and Williamstown areas.

All the brains in the world won’t do it in manufacturing if you don’t have employees determined to give you a good day’s work for a good day’s pay, however. Again, Wood and Putnam counties seem to have that kind of people available, too.

Many considerations go into deciding where to locate a new plant. Tax rates, transportation, proximity to markets, government rules and regulations and a host of other thing are on the table.

None of that matters if the workforce doesn’t, well, work, however.

Toyota and Hino are real success stories, not just for the two companies, but for West Virginians. We’ve proved to some very tough judges that we have truly world-class working men and women in the Mountain State.

Here’s hoping the word spreads to the point folks outside our state abandon the old stereotypes. What a shame it would be if the Japanese understood us better than do our fellow Americans.

Myer can be reached at: