Toyota CEO Jim Lentz: 75 percent of 4,000 employees indicate they’re willing to make California-to-Plano move

Up to 75 percent of Toyota’s 4,000 employees may relocate to Plano if early, informal comments from workers prove accurate.

Jim Lentz, the high-profile automaker’s North American CEO, said Monday that the initial responses from some workers are encouraging.

The company asked all 4,000 of its employees in various divisions to make the move to West Plano, where Toyota is building a 2 million-square-foot headquarters on a 100-acre site.

The employees are now spread among offices in Southern California, Kentucky and New York.

“We had a planning number of around 60 percent [participation], so if this holds up, it could mean we would have 3,000 people moving here and another 1,000 new jobs,” Lentz said from the North American International Auto Show in Detroit.

Lentz has said the open jobs from the move will probably be filled by workers from North Texas.

The participation rate involves far more than pride. Toyota has many long-term employees with considerable experience, and it doesn’t want to lose that knowledge in the move.

When Nissan moved its headquarters from Southern California to Tennessee more than a decade ago, fewer than 50 percent of its workers followed.

Over the last year or so, Toyota has completed an organizational structure for the new headquarters in Plano, which will offer a different culture because all divisions of the company will be housed together for the first time.

Now it’s starting to ask employees whether they plan to move.

“As we have gone to team members, we are getting responses back at about 75 percent yes,” Lentz said.

The new headquarters, which has grown in size from an initial 1.3 million square feet to 2 million square feet as planning has proceeded, is rising on schedule from Toyota’s site just north of Legacy Drive.

“The structures of the front buildings — all five stories — are up,” Lentz said
Tight housing market

Of course, if 3,000 Toyota people do move to North Texas, they will probably find a tight housing market.

At the end of 2015, North Texas had only a 2.1-month supply of homes for sale — one of the lowest inventories on record and one of the lowest in the country.

Lentz said Toyota’s efforts to relocate workers have been helped by the company’s so-called pioneers, a group of about 400 employees who agreed to move to Texas two years before everyone else and settle into the Dallas area.

“One of the reasons the early numbers are going higher is the 400 here had great experiences in the area,” Lentz said. “They like the schools, they like the neighborhoods, and they like their commutes. They are good ambassadors for the area.”

Tornado fears

While the Toyota employees saw things they liked about North Texas, their impressions of the area may be affected by the deadly tornadoes in December that raked Glenn Heights, Garland and Rowlett.

“I don’t know whether they will [have an effect] or not,” Lentz said. “I know early on that one of the biggest concerns people had about the area was tornadoes. Most had never experienced one.”

But Lentz, a native of the Midwest, contends that people have earlier, more accurate warnings of tornadoes than they do with earthquakes, a concern in California.

He noted that the new headquarters in Plano will have underground corridors that could house all of the company’s employees in an emergency.

“We always wanted underground corridors for moving the mail and other things,” Lentz said.

“We expanded the size of those hallways so we could get the entire campus into them if we had storms in the area,” he said.

February 2017 target

Lentz expects headquarters construction to be completed in February 2017 and workers to begin moving in large numbers by that April.

Toyota has estimated that the contemporary headquarters will cost about $350 million. As work has progressed, that has increased to “north of $350 million,” though Lentz can’t yet say by how much.

“We’re just about done with the final, final estimates,” he said. “In the next 90 days, we will nail that down.”

The headquarters has increased in size partly because Toyota expanded its tech center there, which will focus on finding and developing solutions for problems in new vehicles.

“We’re making progress,” Lentz said. “Last year, with the weather we had, that put us behind in construction a couple of weeks. But we have made that up.” (1/11/2016)

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