PRINCETON — Record sales, record production and continuous expansion that directly accounts for the livelihood of nearly 6,000 people, and another 25,000 household paychecks stemming from jobs at supplier companies.
Those are the Toyota headlines.
New Toyota Motor Manufacturing Indiana President Millie Marshall is responsible for the latest expansion announced in January to boost production and create 400 more jobs at the Gibson County plant.
But Marshall sees her responsibility at a much more personal level. For her, it's about making a difference in the lives of people. Watching people grow. Helping them not only at a professional but also a personal level. "I believe that if team members are engaged and motivated, you can do anything. Not only that, they give back to their communities," she says on a Tuesday afternoon in February.
She remembers that last year, when she was serving as president of Toyota's West Virginia engine plant, a community was devastated by a 100-year flood that killed 23 people. "It was a sudden push and people couldn't leave fast enough." Her plant took supplies and sent team members to the community for 90 days to help with the cleanup. "It was people helping people they didn't even know...Toyota paid people to go help a community that was down and out...and people went and did cleanup work than was probably a lot nastier work than what they were normally paid to do," she reflects.
A week later, two funnel clouds move over the Toyota plant in Gibson County, according to local authorities, after a 44 mile trek of devastation southwest of the plant. And tornado survivors mention Toyota Indiana neighbor volunteers out helping in the hours and days after the storm.
That's not uncommon for Toyota Indiana team members, who have cleaned up after tornadoes and floods and fires here.
Marshall shares the philosphy of Akio Toyoda, CEO of the world's largest automaker and grandson of Toyota founder Kiichiro Toyoda. "Toyota is in the business of manufacturing and selling vehicles, but we want to take care of the community," she says.
Reflecting on the economic downturn that nearly pushed other car companies belly-up, Marshall notes that Toyota "walked the talk," keeping people at work through the recession, even when auto market was depressed. "It's not just about this building and team members building vehicles, but about building team members and their families."
Marshall loves to hear the stores of how Toyota jobs change lives for people. "Their kids are going to university, they're buying homes that 20 years ago they only dreamed of." She shares the story of a woman working in the body weld department who tells her, "Millie, I'm getting ready to retire after 20 years." Marshall notes that the woman lives 120 miles away. She stays in Boonville through the week and goes back to her family on weekends. "Toyota changed her life. Her husband stayed with the family and they have seven grandchildren and she's healthy and can enjoy them."
The company encourages giving time and resources to communities, she notes, by encouraging people to serve on boards and work with non-profits. One individual works in an enclave at the plant with special needs adults in partnership with The Arc of Gibson County.
It feels good to know that Toyota volunteers spend their time working on projects across the county during National Public Lands Day, she agrees.
Toyota builds vehicles and communities by making opportunities to build skills for a Toyota job as well, she notes. The company partners with Vincennes University's Advanced Manufacturing Center to offer a two-year program for students to attend classes and work (and be paid) at the plant. They can get an associate degree from VU that can look good on a resume for other jobs or become a candidate for a career with Toyota.
"There are more than 600,000 skilled trade jobs in the U.S. today. There are people who may not want to go through a four-year process and incur large debt and then can't find a job. There are high-tech trade jobs for people who are more suited for hands-on careers. Veterans who give their life for service and then can't get a job can go through advanced manufacturing programs that are key to high-paying, high-benefit jobs. There are high paying jobs in programming robots and machinery, where people get to use their brain and their hands," she says.
Marshall says she wants to launch a continuing education program that is in place at the West Virginia plant for people who started work at Toyota but didn't finish college. "We worked with the local university and they came in twice a week for bachelors and masters degree and doctoral degree programs. It had overwhelming support. More than 80 people attended classes two nights a week," she explains. "That may take a while to organize, but it's something I would like to do."
All these things matter to Marshall, who is a newcomer to Gibson County, but not a stranger. She marvels at the growth along U.S. 41, which she compares to her first trips north on the highway to the plant site before production even started here 20 years ago. She was a part of the team that designed and equipped the plant's information technology systems.
She was in on the ground stage for Gibson County's plant, but when Toyota located near her hometown Lexington, Kentucky, she didn't immediately look for a Toyota job.
She was interested in another type of horsepower.
"I'm from a blue-collar family. I wanted to train quarter horses. Then I realized they cost a lot of money," she smiles. "I went to work for another company. It was more of a job than a career. "Someone took an interest in me and I got involved in IT. I completed an associate degree at the University of Kentucky while working full time and I went into data processing."
Then Toyota came to town.
"A lot of my colleagues went to work there, but I just didn't know if I wanted to," she says. "I waited a couple of years. I saw my neighbors and friends who worked there and I saw that Toyota treated people well and respected people. Their values matched up with mine, so I got a job in IT."
She started working at the company's North American headquarters in Erlanger, Kentucky, in information technology, and soon was training for human resources, then administration. She was working in Erlanger as vice president of human resources during the economic downturn and witnessed the company's commitment to keeping people working. She was later promoted as the company's first local president at the West Virginia powertrain plant, before coming to Gibson County in January.
"Toyota has a respect for people that matches with my values."