Dallas Morning News; August 28, 2014
Some folks in McKinney are already calling the new Trinity Falls subdivision northwest of town “the Toyota development.”
The 1,700-acre planned community on the banks of the Trinity River regularly attracts visits from Toyota employees preparing for the company’s huge move here.
Over the next 30 months, Toyota will pack up its North American headquarters in California — where it has been for 57 years — and move to Plano.
The relocation could involve up to 4,000 employees and their families. Hundreds of others who work at businesses associated with Toyota are likely to be coming here, too.
The first organized visits to the area began Thursday, with 200 Toyota employees arriving to learn more about North Texas and check out neighborhoods and schools.
Twenty area communities will make presentations to the employees as part of the event, sponsored by Toyota.
A second wave of 200 employees was scheduled to arrive Saturday night for another seminar and visits, said Steve Stoler, a spokesman for the city of Plano.
Two waves of employees will arrive each weekend for the next 27 weeks, Stoler said.
Dozens of Toyota employees have already visited on their own from the company’s main headquarters in Torrance, as well as manufacturing and finance offices in Kentucky and New York.
For weeks, Toyota representatives have visited area cities and suburbs, gathering information on neighborhoods and school systems.
“They come and go all the time,” said Pat Lobb, who owns Pat Lobb Toyota in McKinney. “They don’t tell us who is visiting, but lots of people are coming in.”
The reps are compiling information on dozens of areas, including scores of neighborhoods in the vicinity of the automaker’s future campus in Plano.
“We are working with them to get them information on various neighborhoods, and they are very interested in the school system,” said Coco Good, director of communications and marketing for the city of McKinney. “They were also really interested in open spaces — parks and greenbelt areas where people can go to enjoy the outdoors.”
Trinity Falls, a $1 billion development where builders are just beginning to erect homes, will have parks, trails, open spaces and schools.
Although Toyota declined to discuss what it is doing to prepare for the move, Good said she thinks the company is gathering the information to help its employees.
“It’s a pretty exciting time — particularly the lengths that Toyota is going to in helping their employees relocate,” she said. “I personally haven’t seen anything like this, anything this holistic.”
Steve Curtis, a Toyota corporate spokesman, said the company is still in the “very early stages” of the relocation and declined to comment further.
But others said Toyota representatives fly into the area frequently, as do individual Toyota employees.
Toyota pays the travel expenses of employees who are considering a move here and want to visit the area, dealers said.
The employees visitng this weekend are staying at the Westin Stonebriar Hotel, which is also hosting the seminars.
Most of the visits by Toyota officials seem to be focused on cities in Collin County — places like McKinney, Frisco, Allen and Plano, as well as smaller communities such as Prosper and Weston, Good said.
Toyota has good reason to make the move as painless as possible for its 3,000 employees in Torrance, Calif., and another 1,000 mostly in manufacturing offices in Kentucky and finance offices in New York.
In 2006, when Nissan moved its headquarters from Southern California to Franklin, Tenn., only 42 percent of its workers chose to go. That ultimately forced Nissan to look for new employees as far away as Detroit.
Rusty Gentry, general manager of Toyota of Plano, said he has heard no official prediction of the number of Toyota employees likely to make the move.
“But as a Florida boy and strictly as a guess, I figure it will be about half,” said Gentry, who moved here several years ago. “Moving to Texas from California — where a lot of those people have been for years — is just a different lifestyle, and some are not going to want to do it.”
Where is the CEO?
Only a few Toyota employees currently work out of a temporary office in Legacy Park, where Toyota intends to build a 100-acre campus-style complex to house its sales, marketing, finance and manufacturing divisions, dealers say.
“But they say there will be 450 [employees] here by fall and another 450 by the spring to really start preparing for the big move,” Gentry said.
Dealers disagree about whether CEO Jim Lentz, head of North American operations, is among the early arrivals.
Some believe Lentz has moved into the area. Others say he has not.
“I’ve seen him a couple of times, and I think he’s in and out on a regular basis,” said Lobb, whose dealership in McKinney is one of the largest in the area. “But I think he comes in for a specific purpose and then returns to California.”
Suppliers and other companies that do business with Toyota are already looking for offices near the new Plano campus, dealers say.
Shortly after the automaker announced the relocation, area dealers had hoped that the influx of thousands of Toyota employees would boost their sales and service businesses.
In California, Toyota can sell discounted vehicles directly to its employees, something Texas law prohibits, the dealers said. In Texas, new vehicles can only be sold through franchised dealers.
But in a meeting with area dealers in July, senior vice president Bob Carter said the company is likely to lease vehicles to its Plano employees — a move that would apparently be legal in Texas.
“They would hold the paper on the cars,” said David Schoemaker, who owns Toyota of Irving.
In addition, Schoemaker said, Toyota maintains a staff of technicians to service its fleet of 10,000 vehicles, so dealers might not get much service work either.
“I thought it was kind of disappointing,” he said. “But we should still benefit from just the higher profile for Toyota here that [the relocation] will bring.”
Good things ahead
Steve Grogean, vice president and general manager of Toyota of Richardson, said he thinks Toyota is still tweaking car lease plans for its employees in Plano.
But he believes they may have the option of getting their vehicles serviced at neighborhood dealerships rather than at the Toyota campus in Plano.
“We’re still looking at how much opportunity this will mean for us,” Grogean said. “But I think we’ll all benefit to some degree just by having the headquarters here.”
Toyota’s market share has increased in every city where it has opened a high-profile operation, including the Tundra-Tacoma factory in San Antonio, Lobb and other dealers said.
“As the numbers start ramping up, as you start getting more and more Toyota people moving into neighborhoods, that’s going to be a building-block foundation” for dealers, Lobb said.
Gentry, the general manager of Toyota of Plano, agreed.
“We don’t know exactly what will be inside the pretty box they’re giving us,” he said. “We just know it will be great.”