TG Kentucky: 10 years of 'continuous improvement'

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Concert, tree planting mark company's 10th anniversary

By Stephen Lega

It's been a decade since Toyoda Gosei opened a factory in central Kentucky.  Saturday night, the company celebrated its 10 years in Lebanon with a concert featuring American Idol contestant Josh Gracin, and company officials from TG and Toyota and local elected officials spoke during a special luncheon Friday afternoon. Kyoji Ikki told the assembly Friday that it was a great honor to serve as TG Kentucky's president on its 10th anniversary. "I hope for TG Kentucky's continuing success," he said. "I wish you all great health and progress." Ikki also used the occasion to announce a $20,000 donation to the Marion County Area Technology Center on behalf of Toyota and TG Kentucky.  Toyota Senior Vice-President Atsushi Kume said Toyota's relationship with TG Kentucky was built on a long, unsullied foundation. "We hope to continue building on the last 10 years of progress," he said. Hajime Wakayama, president of TG Japan (TG Kentucky's parent company), stated his appreciation to all of TG Kentucky's employees, especially to the 24 who have been with the company since it opened in 1998. "I'd like to express my gratitude to the company, the community and our customers," Wakayama said. State Sen. Dan Kelly addressed the audience in Japanese, and Lebanon Mayor Gary Crenshaw opened his remarks by saying he agreed with everything Kelly had said. Crenshaw said that TG Kentucky has been at the forefront in pushing for change in Lebanon and Marion County. He added that the community has experienced unprecedented growth in the last 10 years, and TG Kentucky has been an important part of that growth. "We express our gratitude, our appreciation and our commitment that we will continue to partner with you," Crenshaw said. Before leading their guests on guided tours of the plant, company and local officials shoveled dirt on a cedar tree. TG General Manager Dennis Brown said it is a tradition in Japan to mark special occasions with a tree planting ceremony. Today, TG Kentucky has more than 900 employees and conducts more than 19.4 billion yen ($200 million) in sales, according to Toyoda Gosei's website.  Each day 50-60 trucks leave the plant to deliver parts across town and across the world. The trucks carry approximately 12,000 containers or approximately 300,000 individual parts. Approximately, 1,800 interior and exterior automotive parts are produced at TG Kentucky, and hundreds of robots are utilized in the production of plastic and rubber parts. But TG Kentucky didn't start out as big or as sophisticated as it is today. Cathy Cocanougher has worked at the plant since it opened. "It's been amazing to see it grow as quickly as it has," she said. Cocanougher recalled that parts of the plant had gravel floors when it first opened. Steve Wheatley came to TG Kentucky after the Fruit of the Loom plant in Campbellsville closed. He said he had to adjust to the Japanese factory model when he first arrived, but he's come to appreciate how the company operates. "If you treat people like you want to be treated, then they'll work their hearts out for you," he said. Both Cocanougher and Wheatley said they have seen the Japanese concept of kaizen, or continuous improvement, in practice as long as they have worked for the company. They agreed that working for TG Kentucky has been a rewarding experience. "I just hope we can stay here another 10 (years)," Cocanougher said.