By Kevin M. Smith
Killeen Daily Herald
HOUSTON – A new Toyota processing center in Temple is expected to create at least 500 new jobs in Central Texas.
Some of those jobs will be well-suited for ex-military personnel with logistical experience at Fort Hood.
But Gulf States Toyota Inc. officials said it will take several years to hit the 500-job mark.
Gary Cole, of Gulf States Toyota, told reporters Friday that the new processing center – to be built north of the industrial park in Temple – will create about 240 jobs when it opens: 220 in installation/logistics and 20 in management.
If the company's production continues to increase as it has the past five years at the Houston plant, the Temple plant eventually will provide 500 jobs.
There is no scheduled groundbreaking yet, but Cole speculated it would take six months to plan and award contracts. He said construction of the Temple plant would likely start in 2009 and take two years to complete.
"What we build in Temple will be different than what we had to do here," Cole told reporters at Gulf States Toyota in Houston on Friday, explaining that the Temple plant will be new construction.
Cole took reporters and city officials on a tour of the facilities in Houston. He said that work at Temple's processing center will mirror what is done in Houston.
"What you can get from Houston, you can get from Temple and vice versa," Cole said.
The only difference will be the initial volume of production and the layout of the facilities.
When Gulf States Toyota moved into the facilities in Houston, there were pre-existing buildings and new buildings constructed. He said building from scratch on empty land in Temple will give the company a chance to provide a better layout for future expansion and modifications.
"We wanted a design and footprint that will allow us to grow over time," Cole said.
The vehicle processing center in Houston produced 266,581 vehicles in 2007. It's the only Toyota processing center in the 12 regions of the U.S. that works on 19 product lines for 172 different models of cars, trucks and SUVs. That processing center employs 600 people.
The facility is running at capacity, Cole said, as it often receives 70 rail cars filled with vehicles every day.
"We do all this to meet the demands of the marketplace and do it with speed," Cole said.
Growth is the reason for building the plant in Temple, Cole said. In 2002, the processing center in Houston rolled out 167,200 vehicles. By 2006, that total had climbed to 252,300 vehicles.
In Temple, Gulf States Toyota will build on a 300-acre lot and expects to process about 100,000 vehicles in the first year at an average of 400 units per day.
"We're excited about being in Temple," Cole said. "We're excited about representing Temple."
He said there virtually will be no difference between the Temple plant and the Houston plant; eventually, if production continues to increase at its current rate, the Temple plant will equal the volume capabilities of the Houston plant.
Cole said that when the processing center in Temple opens, it will employ people with a wide range of skills and experience. He said every employee will have to be able to interact with new technology, but some jobs will require more technical skills than others. Other jobs will involve physical labor, while others will involve management and engineering.
Cole said there will be a need for people with logistical skills, which he expects Fort Hood to help produce. Retiring military personnel should be well-suited for some of the jobs Gulf States Toyota will offer, he said.
There will be in-house training and certification for job duties. Cole said his company will work with Temple College to design training programs locally and draw from the school for workers.
"Our intention is to draw the work force from that area," Cole said.
Cole said he doesn't expect to have to bring in employees from outside of Central Texas. The unemployment rate for the Killeen-Temple-Fort Hood metropolitan statistical area was 4.6 percent in November, according to figures provided by the Texas Workforce Commission in Austin. The labor force is up to 150,985, the report stated. In November, 144,010 residents were employed out of a possible 150,985.
"I think Temple has some of the work force for that," said Shannon Gowan, director of communications for the city of Temple.
However, the work force and location weren't the major selling points for Gulf States Toyota to build in Temple; the main reason was infrastructure.
Cole said no other community that the company considered understood the importance of having railroad tracks at the facility. The city of Temple is providing rail, utilities, streets and land space, Temple Finance Director Traci Barnard said.
The Temple Economic Development Corp. offered the land to Gulf States Toyota for free. It will become the property of the business after it opens the vehicle processing center.
"This land is a great site: flat, open," Barnard said.
She said the infrastructure is being provided because of the tax revenue Gulf States Toyota will bring to the community. The vehicle processing center will be built in a tax increment reinvestment zone, which the city of Temple established in 1982 and expanded in 1999. A TIRZ, which other local taxing entities such as Bell County and the Temple Independent School District signed on for, takes property taxes collected in a certain area and uses that for reinvestment into that predesignated zone.
Barnard said the $50 million facility by Gulf States Toyota will provide enough in property tax values for the city to reinvest that money into the infrastructure.
There are no projections yet regarding how the vehicle processing center in Temple will impact the local economy.
Jonathan Graham, Temple city attorney, said the increased sales tax revenues are difficult to project so the city hired a consultant to estimate it.
"I imagine quite substantial," Graham said about the sales tax revenue increase after the processing center is built.
John Crutchfield, CEO of the Greater Killeen Chamber of Commerce, said the new plant will mean an economic boost for the entire region. Speaking during the middle part of last week, Crutchfield said he does not have a forecast yet for how much the plant will affect Killeen and other nearby communities.
Speaking generally about new industries that create new jobs nearby, Crutchfield said it will mean a boost for everyone because people will commute from surrounding communities to work there and people who move to the area to work there will go to surrounding communities for food, entertainment, etc.
"It definitely has an impact because our economy is interrelated," Crutchfield said.
The Temple center will start with one shift and, as production increases, could go to two shifts like the Houston center, according to Cole.
Gulf States Toyota is a company independent from the Toyota corporation. It buys vehicles from Toyota and adds accessories such as electronics including stereos and alarms, leather interiors, spoilers, rims, etc.
The vehicles go to the processing center via rail car and are taken off the train to a staging area where they are tagged and rinsed. From there, the vehicles go to production and are taken to a "supermarket" of electronics and accessories. The different parts are put in the vehicles, which then go through different stations for installation.
After the final inspection, the processing center sends the vehicles out on trucks to dealerships in the Gulf States region, which includes Texas, Oklahoma, Louisiana, Arkansas and Mississippi. He said Texas is the best market for Toyota with 53 percent of Toyota dealers in the state and 67 percent of sales from those dealers.
Contact Kevin M. Smith at email@example.com or call (254) 501-7550