Toyota invests $1.3bn in Kentucky plant… but no new jobs

Toyota invests $1.3bn in Kentucky plant… but no new jobs
Toyota has set aside $1.33 billion to "overhaul" its largest factory in the world, where one-fourth of its North American vehicles are produced. The money is part of the company's five-year, $10 billion investment in the United States.

The cash injection won't add new jobs to Toyota's Georgetown, Kentucky, factory, but will work to maintain the plant's existing 8,200 jobs, the most Toyota has at any one plant in the world, the company said Monday. With the investment, the company said it will also incorporate new design, engineering and manufacturing strategies, as well as an overall plant makeover.

The $1.33 billion investment is part of the company's "plan to invest $10 billion dollars in the US over the next five years, on top of the nearly $22 billion Toyota has invested in the US. over the past 60 years," Toyota Motor North America CEO Jim Lentz said in a statement.

In 2016, the plant produced about a quarter of all Toyota vehicles made in North America, or more than 500,000. The Georgetown factory recently added more than 700 jobs to help with the launch of the 2018 Camry, the top-selling car in the US. The plant is also home to the Lexus ES 350.

"This is the largest investment in our plant’s history," said Wil James, the president of Toyota Motor Manufacturing, Kentucky, Inc., in the statement.

"This major overhaul will enable the plant to stay flexible and competitive, further cementing our presence in Kentucky," James added.

Top Kentucky politicians and even President Donald Trump praised the investment in the company's news release. Trump was included in the release at the White House's request, according to AP. Trump plugged the investment as proof his administration is improving the overall American economy.

"Toyota’s decision to invest $1.3 billion in their Kentucky plant is further evidence that manufacturers are now confident that the economic climate has greatly improved under my administration and echoes the recent National Association of Manufacturers' 2017 Outlook Survey showing that 93% of manufacturers are now optimistic, which is an increase of 37% from just a few months ago," Trump said.

In the release, US Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky) congratulated the company, "especially its thousands of hard-working Kentuckians."

The US South, including Kentucky, is stridently anti-union, which has led the region's challenge to traditional car-making states like Michigan and Ohio for supremacy of the American automotive industry.

In early January, Kentucky Republicans, who had recently seized both chambers of the State Legislature to complement a Republican governor, quickly approved an anti-union "right-to-work" law while repealing another a law that provided higher wages to workers involved in publicly financed construction projects. Opponents of the legislative actions said the Kentucky Legislature moved on these issues with unprecedented speed and secrecy.

"Members of the Legislature were not given the opportunity to read these bills, to thoroughly debate them in committee, to thoroughly debate them on the floors of the chambers before they were passed," Richard Becker, a union organizer with Service Employees International Union, told Democracy Now in January. "And as a result, those of us on the ground here in Kentucky are still actually trying to wrap our heads around what exactly passed."

Eleven percent of Kentucky's wage and salary workers are members of a union, according to the US Labor Department.

Just prior to taking office, Trump took to Twitter to threaten Toyota with a "big border tax" if the company built a factory in Mexico. But the company had approved of the Guanajuato plant in April 2015 and had begun construction two months before Trump's comments. Toyota assured Americans that no US jobs would move over the border for the new plant.