COLUMBUS, INDIANA (Aug. 23,2015) – Toyota is reinvesting in its Columbus footprint once again, building a new national headquarters for its Material Handling division and adding amenities for the company’s expanding workforce
And when the dust settles from this round of $16 million worth of new construction and remodeling in September 2016, additional Toyota investment in Woodside Industrial Park is likely, said Tony Miller, senior vice president for Toyota Material Handling.
“It’s certainly in the realm of possibility,” he said. “You can count on about every second year for something.”
Toyota’s campus at 5555 Inwood Drive, about six miles south of downtown Columbus, opened in 1990 and has gone through at least a dozen expansions since then.
The company, which builds three- and four-wheel forklifts and other equipment, has grown from about 250,000 square feet 25 years ago to just over a million square feet with the upcoming expansion, said Steve Pride, Toyota senior manager for human resources, training and customs compliance.
There is more room to expand on the company’s current footprint, Miller said, with open field space in several directions but specifically to the east. And in 2010, the company purchased property to the south, which offers more expansion possibilities.
Many area residents may not realize Toyota has more than just a forklift manufacturing plant that has produced more than 500,000 forklifts since the facility opened. The majority of all Toyota forklifts sold in North America are produced at the Columbus plant.
In addition to the manufacturing facility, which employs around 1,100 workers, Toyota Material Handling USA is the sales, marketing and distribution arm of the material handling business, and employs about 175 people.
Also on site are Toyota Industries North America Inc., which shares professional services for all North American entities of Toyota Industries Corp. Thirty people work in the fields of information technology, accounting and finance, tax, internal audit, legal and human resources.
And there is Toyota Material Handling North America, which is the management framework for operational control of the material-handling business in North America.
Toyota, perhaps best known as a world leader in automobile sales, began producing forklifts in 1956 and established its first forklift dealership in the United States in 1967, the company’s website states.
In 1990, Toyota’s first U.S.-built forklift rolled off the line at the Columbus plant, and by 2002, the nation’s leading automaker also became the No. 1-selling forklift company in the U.S.
The initial intent of the latest planned expansion in Columbus was to establish a facility for the headquarters, but there were other opportunities to address employee needs that arose at the same time, Miller said.
One is adding another cafeteria to decrease the wait time Toyota workers have experienced during their 30-minute lunch breaks, Miller said.
“Our associates are not shy,” Miller said. “They will tell us when they are frustrated with the arrangements. We got a lot of feedback from them on the wait times they had experienced in the cafeteria,” he said.
With a 30-minute lunch period, a 10-minute wait time to go through the line has a significant impact, Miller said.
The current cafeteria is located in an area that is surrounded by the production area, so it was difficult to expand there without encroaching into significant production issues, he said.
“So that’s where the thought came from — what can we do to create a second cafeteria? Then the thought process included how do we make it convenient for workers and their families to join them?” he said.
At lunchtime, it’s not uncommon to see spouses or kids in cars outside the facility eating lunch, or out on the lawn. The new cafeteria will help foster such family connections and give workers more time at lunch rather than just obtaining lunch.
Another upgrade will be adding more space for EF2-rated shelters in case of severe weather, Pride said. EF2 refers to the Enhanced Fujita scale used to rank tornadoes by their potential to cause damage and death; EF2 falls within strong and significant tornado damage.
Toyota has known for some time that as its labor force expands, there would be a day that the company wouldn’t be able to fit everyone in shelters, he said.
“We wanted to stay ahead of that curve,” he said.
At the same time, the company noted with more employees, more locker room space was needed. So company officials combined the two needs into an expanded locker room that serves as a storm shelter for workers.
The company also is expanding the company’s medical center, used by employees and their families.
“It’s become such a good benefit that we have, and the usage continues to increase,” Miller said. The company recently expanded to allow temporary workers to also use the medical center facilities, and added more staff, Miller said.
“But we’ve physically run out of space to give them a good working area,” he said. “We’re more or less doubling our medical area, adding some larger suites,” he said.
The new headquarters building will provide room to support human development activities, new manufacturing technology development and new product development along with the company’s Vision 20/20 initiatives.
The company’s main entrance, IT, manufacturing and engineering are all on different corners of the facility, Miller said.
That can make communication difficult and can be challenging for teamwork, he said. The new space will be an opportunity to bring all those teams together into one office.
Skill development — training — has been a challenge for the company for a long time, Pride said.
“We heavily promote human development and training — continual improvement. That’s what Toyota is based on and is part of our culture,” Pride said.
The building project will help the company improve efficiency, output quality and delivery, and work with internal and external customers, he said.
“If we don’t keep that momentum going and develop new strategies, new technologies, new skills, then we’ll fall behind,” Pride said.
The expansion will provide space for training for small or large groups, from meetings of Toyota Improvement Groups to entire departments, he said.
“This will give the training department room to really stretch to be able to work one-on-one with new hires, Pride said. “I know the training groups are tremendously excited about that.”
Toyota officials plan to continue to seek ideas and suggestions from their employees about the company’s Columbus location and how to seek continuous improvement.
A plant-wide opinion survey was conducted Aug. 11 to gather feedback across the board, Pride said.
“Our whole culture is built on open communication,” Pride said. “So if an associate stops Tony, or stops me, or stops the company president, that’s quite acceptable and common,” Pride said.
“And encouraged, I would say,” said Tracy Stachniak, Toyota’s national manager for human resources.
Toyota’s managers are encouraged and expected to be out on the shop floor, knowing what’s going on in the manufacturing operation, which is the core business, Miller said.
There are multiple meetings throughout all levels of the operation to share strategic information with associates, he said.
“It’s core to our business,” he said.