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Hino Motors spurs Wood County economy

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Hino Motors not only has helped its West Virginia location's economy, it also has become part of the local community.

The 194,000-square-foot plant has operated in the Williamstown location for five years, starting out with 80 employees and producing two trucks per day.

Hino identified Wood County along with several other areas as a potential place of operation, recalled Wood County commissioner Blair Couch.

"The thing that won us is we had a large building that would accommodate them," Couch said. "The state and county also had to show that our work force is what Hino was looking for."

And Hino came to the struggling community just in time. Couch said the manufacturer that previously was located in Hino's building had moved to Mexico. The community also struggled with the loss of production at Fenton glass.

"To have Hino really helped the Williamstown community. We had another manufacturer to put those people back to work," he said.

And the business continued to grow.

In July 2012, Hino Motors Manufacturing USA announced plans for a $6 million expansion that would bring 20 more jobs to its Wood County plant.

As part of the plan, half of the investment would go to machinery improvements at the plant and the remaining $3 million would be allotted to supplies and intangibles.

The announcement came shortly after Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin went on a 10-day trade mission to Japan, which included private meetings with senior Hino officials. 

The plant now employees nearly 200 people who assemble about 35 Hino trucks per day.

Hino vice president and general counsel, Sanford "Sandy" Ring, said 2012 was a "solid year" for the Williamstown plant.

"Daily production volumes and team member employment were at their highest levels since the start of operations in 2007," he said.

As for the upcoming year, Ring said it may start off slow. Overall, he said the company is optimistic.

"While we are optimistic for calendar year 2013. We expect first quarter production will be modestly lower than originally forecast," he said. "However, we believe production volumes will rebound, boosted both the launch of our 2014 Model Year vehicle in February and, hopefully, continued strengthening of the dollar."

"Hino is also very bullish on the West Virginia economy," he added. "There is a lot of activity surrounding Marcellus and the various up and downstream industries. A positive business and regulatory climate will benefit a wide swath of companies,"

It's not just Hino that is growing. Couch said the company's investment in the area has spurred the local economy.

"They've increased employee counts at a time when young people can't get work. They've actually added employees instead of cutting them," he said. "They from time to time bring in outside visitors who stay in hotels and eat in restaurants."

Additionally, Couch said the company has had a multiplier effect spurring another truck assembler across the street and bringing in more ancillary businesses.

"We hope others will come to Wood County, as well," he said.

Jill Parsons, president and CEO of the Mid-Ohio Valley Chamber of Commerce, said the company has become part of the community.

"Hino Motors has been a great supporter of the Mid-Ohio Valley since opening here in 2007. … As a member of the Chamber and business community, they are wonderful supporters of many community events and partner with several education institutions," she said. "In fact, Hino Motors is a business partner with Williamstown Elementary School through our local Chamber of Commerce Partner in Education program. 

Wayne Nichols, highway equipment specialist at the West Virginia Department of Highways, said he has seen the benefits first hand.

"I think that economically the fuel economy is getting better. The warranty work that has been done has really helped out, service into rules seem to be lessening and overall. It's been a very good truck," Nichols said. "What problems we have had, Hino has been very well to work with and resolve the problems."

Nichols said the department is having good luck with the Hino trucks.

"The visibility out of the cabins is very good. It's better than any other truck we've had. … The instrument panel is user friendly now. … Also, the turning radius is so much tighter than other trucks in the past. You can almost turn in this truck as well as the vehicle you would normally drive," he said, adding that this especially helps in snow and ice.

Couch said he is happy to have the company in Wood County and looks forward to the upcoming year. He said Hino put Williamstown on the map, globally.

"At one point in time, we had a map of all the different suppliers that ship a variety of products to Hino," he said. "It's assembled all over the world. The Hino product is a well-respected product in the industry. It's a product that represents West Virginia well."