On a sunny morning in May, Jim Lentz, Toyota’s North American CEO, addressed a group of a few dozen colleagues gathered on an upper story patio.
Behind him was a sweeping vista, wrought of Texas limestone and acres of glass, more luxe resort compound than typical office sprawl. It was, for many in his audience, their first time catching a glimpse of the Japanese auto giant’s new North American headquarters in Plano.
At the moment, though, they couldn’t see it.
The view was obscured by a giant Fixer Upper-inspired photo board showing what had been there 850 days before: 100 acres of empty land.
“Experts said we couldn’t do it,” Lentz, a low-key executive who once took a demotion rather than toughen up his management style, told the workers. “This is one of the biggest headquarters moves in North American corporate history.”
The employees, who were among the first to move in, held up their phones, documenting the moment when workers pulled the photo boards to the side.
“The reality is, this is for you,” Lentz said.
The crowd released red and white balloons — biodegradable, of course — into the clear sky. Kool & The Gang’s “Celebration” blared.
It was a short ceremony, but for Lentz, it was the beginning of what looks to be a long victory lap.
On Thursday, the public, as well as state and local leaders, will get their introduction to the new campus. Toyota team members and their families will celebrate at an event in the fall.
The move, as Lentz himself said, marked a milestone in corporate relocations — the kind of high-profile score that state and regional officials have been chasing for years as part of their broad economic development strategy.
That strategy entails recruiting high-paying corporate employers to the region as a way of drawing ever more wealthy workers, whose spending will support restaurants, bars and stores — all of which contribute more jobs and grow the economy.
The 2 million-square-foot new campus is slated to be home to more than 4,000 employees, many of whom are moving from California.
When Toyota executives announced in 2014 that they were leaving behind the Torrance, Calif., headquarters from which the company had built its vast American presence, it sent shock waves through the Golden State’s business community.
The mayor of Torrance described it as a wake-up call.
The idea, Lentz said, was to bring together the automaker’s four separate North American operations, hoping to create a more unified front.
“One Toyota,” the initiative was dubbed — and nods to that idea can be found at the new campus, including in the form of a large signature oculus-style skylight over the outdoor deck where Lentz spoke in May.
Lentz has said that the decision to relocate to North Texas hinged on numerous considerations, from Dallas-Fort Worth’s central geographic location to quality-of-life measures like good schools, diversity and cultural amenities.
The state kicked in $40 million from its Texas Enterprise Fund, and Plano added $6.75 million in incentives to sweeten the deal. Toyota executives say the incentives weren’t a deciding factor in the move, which is expected to cost the company as much as $1 billion.
For Plano, it was a major win. The suburb’s sheen had started to wear off as cities farther north, like Frisco and McKinney, started to catch up, snagging high-profile new developments.
Economic development leaders question whether the region will be able to make a comparable corporate score in the future, especially as state lawmakers battle with Texas’ big businesses over proposed legislation that could be perceived as discriminatory.
Toyota hasn’t formally spoken out against Texas’ so-called bathroom bill, but Plano’s inclusivity and diverse population were key parts of the city’s pitch, according to Mayor Harry LaRosiliere.
Congestion is a concern as the move adds more cars on the road and home-seeking families to an already-exploding region where traffic is worsening and housing prices are skyrocketing.
Meanwhile, Toyota is working to become a mobility company — not just a car-maker — as the auto industry sees rapid change.
Lentz has said he’s excited to navigate those changes from the Lone Star State.
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