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Lawmaker seeks prayers for Toyota and its employees



FRANKFORT

A Kentucky lawmaker whose district includes a Toyota plant is urging people to off er up prayers for the automaker and its employees who are struggling through massive recalls that have tarnished the company’s once-sterling reputation.

State Rep. Charlie Hoffman said his prayer request is a natural response because so many families depend on jobs provided by the automaker in “these perilous economic times.”

“Toyota is so closely woven in the Georgetown-Scott County community, and Kentucky as a whole, that we definitely need to be pulling for them and praying for them to get through this situation,” Hoff man, D-Georgetown, said in an interview this week.

Toyota’s sprawling production plant at Georgetown employs about 6,600 full-time workers. The plant makes the Camry, Camry hybrid, Avalon and Venza crossover vehicles.

Last week, work shut down on one of two production lines at the Georgetown plant as Toyota dealt with fallout from a recall over a sticky accelerator. The production line temporarily halted had used the gas pedal in question, plant spokesman Rick Hesterberg said. The line that stayed in production installed a gas pedal provided by a diff erent supplier, he said.

The plant resumed full production Monday, he said. Employees on the idled line last week still worked, spending time looking for production efficiencies and doing maintenance, he said.

Toyota Motor Corp. has recalled more than 7 million vehicles in the U.S., Europe and China over the sticky accelerator and floor mats that can get caught in the gas pedal. Toyota has said it will soon announce plans to deal with a braking problem in some Prius hybrid vehicles.

Hesterberg said the company appreciates the support from the community.

“Sometimes when you’re faced with a challenge you really find out who your friends are,” he said. “It’s been encouraging to hear from our neighbors and community leaders who have called and basically said we still believe in you.”

Kim Menke, manager of community and government relations at the Georgetown plant, said Hoffman’s prayer request was well received when he made it at a recent legislative breakfast.

“This is the Bible Belt,” Menke said. “We view that as just a common way of folks saying, ‘Hey, we’re really concerned for you, for your well-being.”

Bob Fox, pastor at Faith Baptist Church in Georgetown, said Toyota is a “good corporate citizen and we love having them here.” But he added, “I don’t think that it’s the job of Christians to pray for multi-billion-dollar corporations.”

Instead, Fox said, he would encourage his parishioners to pray for Toyota’s leaders, its employees and the people driving Toyota vehicles that were part of the recall.

Steve Gates, owner of the Toyota South dealership in Richmond, Ky., said “we’re anxious to get support from anyone. It would be awesome to have divine support.”

Gates said he has gotten calls from people off ering support and prayers. People have hugged him in the grocery store, he said.

“Clearly they understand that we’re in great danger,” he said. “This has been an extraordinarily difficult time for us.”

The series of problems at Toyota, plus its response, have stained the Japanese automaker’s stellar reputation for quality. Hoffman expressed confidence in the company’s resilience to “regain the ground of consumer confidence quickly.”

Just in case, though, he is urging people to seek divine support for the company and its workers.

“In this hour of challenge that they now find themselves, we want them to know that our thoughts and prayers are with them,” he said.


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