Jay Rockefeller: WV Toyota plant is a dream realized (Daily Mail WV)

Twenty years ago, a young man from St. Albans carefully filled out a job application. He and his wife were just starting their family and working hard to make ends meet. His wife heard on the radio that Toyota was coming to Putnam County and encouraged him to apply. Matt Oliver was hopeful but cautious. He knew those 350 jobs would be in high demand.

He was right. Twenty-five thousand people applied for those jobs. But through every step of the hiring process, Matt’s wife, Nikki, told him to just do his best.

That’s what he did, and that’s what he’s done every year since as the very first team member of Toyota Motor Manufacturing West Virginia — where he still works, now as Assistant Manager of Human Resources.

It’s because of Matt and so many hardworking West Virginians like him that the Toyota engine manufacturing plant has done nothing but expand since it opened in Buffalo in 1998.

What started out as a $400 million project has grown into a $1.5 billion investment — the second largest industrial investment in the Mountain State in the last 50 years — with employment now at more than 1,600.

Last September, Toyota West Virginia announced the newest chapter in its growth in the state — a $115.3 million investment to start producing its first American-made hybrid transaxles by 2020.

Back in 1986, as a freshman U.S. Senator from West Virginia, all of this was just a dream. I knew I wanted to use my Japanese connections to usher in something new for the people of the state — and I believed we could achieve something monumental.

So I traveled to Japan in January of that year and met with Dr. Shoichiro Toyoda, chairman of Toyota Motor Corporation. For 10 full years and through multiple trips to Japan, visits by Toyota officials to West Virginia and countless phone calls and meetings, I was determined to make this happen.

In 1996, we did just that — with the announcement that Toyota had chosen Buffalo, West Virginia, as the site of its new engine plant to produce 4-cylinder Corolla engines. As local schoolchildren waved Japanese and West Virginia flags, we broke ground in a wide-open cornfield in September that year. While the plant was under construction, Toyota announced it would build a second factory at the site to produce V-6 Camry engines, already doubling production.

In total, Toyota has expanded its West Virginia plant nine times. West Virginians from nearly all 55 counties have worked there.

Team members are now making products for the Avalon, Camry, Corolla, Highlander, Lexus RX350, and Lexus ES350, Rav4 and Sienna, and they are supplying products for Toyota at Japanese companies across the state — including Diamond Electric, Nippon Thermostat and NGK Sparkplugs.

And the company has made an inspiring difference in the community — with millions of dollars in donations to local schools and charities like the United Way and countless volunteer hours by team members.

That naturally Japanese and West Virginia way of giving back is something Matt Oliver has passed on to his four daughters. He and Nikki still live in St. Albans. Three of their girls have either graduated from or are attending West Virginia University, and their youngest daughter will be a junior in high school this year.

They say they feel like they won the lottery — that they don’t think they could have stayed in West Virginia and raised a big family without Toyota. I say: This is a dream come true.

Jay Rockefeller came to West Virginia as a VISTA worker in 1964, and served the state as a delegate, secretary of state, governor and U.S. senator. He is now retired, with his last term in the U.S. Senate ending in 2015.

Funerals for Monday, October 14, 2019

Chapman, Donald - 11 a.m., White Funeral Home, Summersville.

Faucett III, Jehugh - 1 p.m., Grace Bible Church, Charleston.

Gilmore, Debora - 1 p.m., Tyler Mountain Memory Gardens, Cross Lanes.

Glover, Carrie - Noon, Preston Funeral Home, Charleston.

Holstein, Ronnie - 11 a.m., Pineview Cemetery, Orgas.

Hornbeck, Jo Ellen - 2 p.m., Bartlett-Nichols Funeral Home, St. Albans.

Keller II, George - 1 p.m., First Presbyterian Church Sanctuary.

Lacy, Angie - 1 p.m., Fidler & Frame Funeral Home, Belle.

Myers, Angela - Noon, Stevens & Grass Funeral Home, Malden.

Painter, Dorothy - 1 p.m., Tyree Funeral Home, Oak Hill.

Park, Emily - 11 a.m., Old Stone Presbyterian Church, Lewisburg.

Stone, Karen - 7 p.m., Casdorph & Curry Funeral Home, St. Albans.

Sweet, Ufa - 11 a.m., Snodgrass Funeral Home, South Charleston.

Tomblin, Vonnie - 1 p.m., Mountaineer Missionary Baptist Church, Harts.

Williams, Raymond - 1 p.m., Dodd & Reed Funeral Home, Webster Springs.