UPDATE 5/1/13 @ 6:40 a.m.
BUFFALO, W.Va. (WSAZ) -- Toyota Motor Manufacturing of West Virginia celebrated another major milestone, with its 10 millionth unit rolling off the assembly line.
A celebration was held Wednesday afternoon at the plant in Buffalo. Toyota managers say it's the first powertrain plant outside of Japan to hit that major achievement number.
Toyota's plant in West Virginia has undergone seven major expansions since it opened in 1996. It started with 350 employees and now has nearly 1,300.
"I think the future is very, very bright," Toyota North America CEO Jim Lentz said. "I think the future of the auto industry is very, very bright. And Toyota continues to want to build cars where we want to sell them."
U.S. Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., is credited with peaking Toyota's founder Dr. Toyoda's interest in investing in West Virginia. However, Rockefeller doesn't like to take all the credit.
"For us, it's a crowning achievement for all of us," Rockefeller said. "I think there's a good chance based on precedent that the jobs they created in Georgetown (Ky.) will have a spill over effect here."
For people like Jill Gentry, who's worked at Toyota for nearly 15 years, it has meant opportunities.
"It brings so much pride to be able to say I build the transmissions that go in the vehicles and I work on the assembly line," team member Jill Gentry said.
She says it's an achievement that's tough for any woman who wants a career in manufacturing. However, she says the job is helping put her daughters through college.
On Wednesday, Toyota donated more than $32,000 to 13 schools in Putnam, Cabell, Mason and Kanawha counties. That money is to support manufacturing technician programs.
Toyota Motor Manufacturing West Virginia recently added 80 new jobs and makes engines or transmissions for 12 models.
Toyota Motor Engineering & Manufacturing North America announced Thursday it will increase its annual production capacity of 6-speed automatic transmission from approximately 400,000 to 520,000 at its plant in Buffalo.
This will create dozens of new jobs.
"It speaks to them recognizing just how talented our company is, how talented our team members are and this is a good place to expand," General Manager Mike Lutz said. "They see it, they understand it but we'll have to keep demonstrating that."
The increase will begin in November 2012 and will be completed by July 2013.
According to a news release, this is a $45 million dollar investment.
"It's good for the community," Putnam County resident Misty Gibson said. "They're bringing business to us and that's what we really need with the economy the way it is."
"I think it's great as long as they give the jobs to the West Virginians," Buffalo resident Darlena Russell said. "Give it to the home people and let them make their money and spend it in the community; put it back."
Bodine Aluminum will provide transmission cases and housing parts to the West Virginia plant. This expansion will create another 25 jobs and more than $10M investment for its Troy, Mo plant.
Toyota West Virginia currently builds 6-speed transmissions for the Avalon, Camry, Lexus RX350, Sienna and Venza. All of them are built in North America.
Toyota plant officials say this latest expansion raises employment to approximately 1,200 and the total plant investment to $1.3 billion.
Job applications will soon be available through Workforce West Virginia, according to officials at the plant.
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