Earlier this month I traveled to the village of Greene, N.Y. It’s the kind of place where, as you drive up hill and down dale, carefully passing John Deere tractors, you can’t help thinking that there might be more cows than people among the local population.
Greene is home to the lift truck maker The Raymond Corp. I’d been invited to observe a program designed to introduce students to manufacturing and engineering careers, and to attend the ribbon cutting for a major expansion to the company’s facilities.
I reported on the events of the day, but there was something else that bears mentioning—something I’ve observed when visiting a few other lift truck OEMs: that despite being world-class, technologically sophisticated operations, they still feel like small-town, family businesses. (In the case of privately owned Crown Equipment, it is a family business.)
The population of Greene swells dramatically when Raymond’s 1,500-plus local employees are on the job. The mayor, Phill Brown, is a 35-year Raymond employee, and several other town officials work for the lift truck maker. There’s no doubt that the company plays a central role in the lives of people who live in the village and surrounding communities.
The same is true of Crown, which is not only by far the largest employer in rural New Bremen, Ohio, but also has purchased and renovated historic buildings in the town center, provides ongoing support to local organizations, and has employed multiple generations of families throughout the area. It’s not a stretch to say that if not for Crown, New Bremen would be a different place than it is today.
Like many Japanese companies, the attitude that “we are not just a business, we are a family” is ingrained in the culture of Toyota Industrial Equipment Manufacturing (TIEM), maker of Toyota lift trucks and a sister company to Raymond. That was manifest during a recent celebration in Columbus, Ind., of TIEM’s 25 years of manufacturing in the U.S. The plant was shut down for the afternoon—a very expensive proposition, and a decision not made lightly—while more than 1,500 associates attended the ceremony, lunch, and concert the company put on for them.
Of course, you can’t expect everyone to have warm feelings about his or her employer. But clearly many of Toyota’s U.S. employees do. For example, when retired former TIEM President Yoshimitsu Ogihara was introduced during the ceremony, the crowd of factory and warehouse workers cheered loudly. Later, as Ogihara walked around the grounds, many of those associates greeted him warmly. Out on the lawn, associates didn’t hesitate to toss a soccer ball to Toyota Material Handling North America President and CEO Brett Wood and kick it around with him.
These are not the only lift truck OEMs that have close relationships with their employees and the communities where they do business, of course. All of them exemplify why a strong U.S. manufacturing sector is not just about competitiveness and employment numbers, it’s also about quality of life.