MARYSVILLE, Ohio – Thousands of technicians at the Marysville auto plant work with steady precision, each with his or her own specialized job.
Each one is an important piece in a huge wheel of production, that never stops spinning.
“The thing I love most is being out on the floor and interacting with the people,” said Rob May, the newly promoted plant manager. “Just seeing the smiles and the pride that they feel for building high quality products like they do — it’s what keeps me coming to work every day.”
May started on the job 28 years ago in the welding department, earning $9 an hour, working his way up through the ranks.
He’s now responsible for 5,000 workers, and each one of the 1,900 vehicles that rolls off the two assembly lines every day.
“From the time it comes off a coil of steel, to the time it rolls off the end of the assembly line, it’s about 16-and-a-half hours, give or take a half hour,” May said.
“You can really think of this as the hub of Honda’s North American production operations,” said Rick Schostek, Honda of America Senior Vice President.
The idea started way back in 1977 with a very persistent politician, then Ohio Governor Jim Rhodes, who reportedly flew to Tokyo less than 24 hours after hearing that a Japanese automaker was interested in building a plant in America.
“He hit it off with Mr. Honda, our founder, and as they say, the rest is history,” said Schostek.
Sixty-four workers started making motorcycles at the Marysville plant in 1979.
Three years later, car production began.
The company now has 11 state-of-the-art facilities in six Ohio communities — producing not only cars and trucks but engines, transmissions and auto parts.
A thousand engineers also work every day on the newest technology and designs.
But Honda executives said much of their success comes from a network of relationships outside their factory walls.
“We have a partnership with 600 suppliers in North America, and 150 of them are right here in Ohio,” said Schostek. “In fact, there’s a Honda supplier in more than half the counties in Ohio, and we purchase from those Ohio suppliers about $9 billion worth of parts every year.”
One of those key partners is Stanley Electric, about 30 miles down the road in London.
The Japanese company followed Honda to America, specializing in all types of exterior lighting.
“What we make today, generally speaking, is at a Honda plant tomorrow and maybe on a car tomorrow,” says Stanley Executive Vice President and Director, Mark Cowan.
It’s a relationship that continues to grow.
“We work with them on concepts from the beginning,” Cowan said. “We have many, many processes – from molding, to hard coating, to painting, to deco-painting, to metallization to assembly.”
The 1,100 daily workers are a reflection of their Honda counterparts, taking pride in their highly detailed jobs to create world-class products.
“Anyone can make robots, but it’s the employees that make the difference between a good product and a quality product, and that’s what our people do,” said Cowan.
Cowan said business continues to grow, forcing Stanley to expand its plant and hire more workers to fill a steady increase in orders since the recent recession.
“In our 30 years here, we’ve never been busier,” Cowan added.
“They’re selling more vehicles, and we’re definitely seeing an impact from that,” said Jeff Helman, of The Rosewood Machine and Tool Company.
Jeff’s dad started working with Honda back in 1986. Jeff and his brother now run the business in rural Champaign County.
Jeff’s workers help keep Honda’s myriad of machines running in top-notch condition.
“We tear them apart, evaluate them, and repair what needs repaired,” said Helman. “We attempt to make them better than new.”
Helman and his workers use high-tech computer measuring equipment – to make sure each part is calibrated to exact specifications – down to 0.1 the thickness of a human hair.
“When they need to change a part in the middle of a shift, it’s going to fit and function properly,” Helman said.
It’s a trust with Honda that has grown through the years.
“That relationship has made us, has made Rosewood Machine, a better company, because they’ve also been a teacher,” Helman said.
“Honda employs almost 14,000 people here in Ohio. A study came out about 8 years ago, estimating that Honda operations have helped indirectly create an additional 130,000 jobs across the region.
Since that study, production has expanded, so those numbers are likely to be even greater now.
“We deliver probably a hundred pizzas to their plant every week,” said Victoria Petrella, the General Manager of Benny’s Pizza.
This Marysville favorite has seen steady growth, making sandwiches and baking pizzas since the mid-1990s – cashing in while riding the Honda wave.
“We see a lot of families here, and I think a big part of that is probably Honda,” said Petrella.
The effects of Honda’s economic engine extend even further.
And no place has benefited more than Union County, which has one of the top household incomes in the nation.
“They’ve invested money in our hospital, our YMCA,” said Eric Phillips, Executive Director of the Union County Chamber of Commerce.
Honda has donated about $80 million back into the communities where its employees live and work.
“But really, money is not the important thing for us,” said Schostek. “The important thing for us is the involvement of our people, so we really encourage volunteerism.”
”Honda is a very quiet company, they don’t ask for a lot,” said Alex Fischer, President and CEO of the Columbus Partnership.
He said Honda’s innovation over three decades has been a game changer in marketing central Ohio.
“Not only are they in our community, they came here first, they’re continuing to invest, they’re building some of the world’s greatest cars,” Fischer said.
“Sitting here in Union County, in Marysville, we consider ourselves part of the extended Columbus community as well,” added Schostek. “So, we have a lot of friends and neighbors, we think, and it’s been just a great two-way relationship for all these years.”
The company has invested $8.4 billion in Ohio, producing 15.4 million vehicles here since 1985. That’s 83 percent of the company’s total U.S. production.
There are also plans to give Ohio even more responsibility in launching new designs.
Expansion is already underway to build the brand new Accord hybrid later this year and the new Acura NSX.
“Really, it’s the first super sports car to be built in Ohio, and we’re proud to be the ones to do that,” Schostek said.
“I think you can see the future is very, very bright for Honda in Ohio,” Schostek added. “And we intend to be here for a long, long time.”