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Toyota celebrates 30th anniversary with reopening of visitor center

Students' robot accepts $30,000 check from Toyota

Scott County senior Alex Elam controls a robot built by students as Toyota president Wil James presents a $30,000 check.
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Scott County senior Alex Elam controls a robot built by students as Toyota president Wil James presents a $30,000 check.

Celebrating 30 years, 10 million cars and 8,000 employees, Toyota marked its anniversary in Kentucky on Wednesday with a grand reopening of its visitors center and with donations to area organizations.

During the opening ceremony, officials quoted a recent study from the Center for Automotive Research showing that every Toyota job creates three more across the commonwealth. The report also showed that Toyota’s $1.9 billion payroll accounted for 1.6 percent of the total employee compensation in Kentucky.

Along with financial news, the high tech features of the visitors center, accessible through the Gate 2 entrance at Toyota, was the focus Wednesday.

Those digital features include a Gifony system that allows visitors to rearrange short clips of video with sound into individual minute-long films showing how a car rolls through the assembly line to completion and a virtual reality simulation that mimics distracted driving.

The first Lexus built in Georgetown also is on display along with the first Camry to roll off the line in 1988.

Officials cited a total investment of $80 million over the coming years. That includes the capital investment in the construction of a new engineering building and the contributions to the local economy of the 300 engineers being added to the campus. The engineering building is expected to be completed by the end of 2017.

Toyota Kentucky President Wil James drew a laugh from the crowd when he and four Toyota employees donned red sunglasses after he said “Toyota’s future is bright.”

A list of donations announced included: $30,000 to Scott County schools for the VEX Robotics Program, $30,000 to Honor Flights Kentucky, $10,000 to Quest Farm and $10,000 to LexPro. Other donations are to be announced later in the year for a total of $100,000, officials said.

Alex Elam, a Scott County High School senior, operated the robot built by students especially for the celebration. Adorned with its own dark sunglasses, the robot rolled out to applause from the group to accept the Toyota donation. Elam said it only took about a day to build the robot but “we have a lot of practice.”

About 70 kids participate in the after-school robotics program, meeting two hours a day, three days a week. The program is available to high school and middle school students, Elam said, and will start this year in elementary schools beginning at Lemons Mill.

The visitors center and plant tours are free, but reservations are encouraged. They can be made at  www.visittoyotaky.com.

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