Assume Nothing

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The first thing Ron Anderson (second from left) did after NUMMI closed was go hiking with family and friends.

Ron Anderson worked at NUMMI, for 12 years, but he wasn't an employee. He co-owned one of a host of supplier companies that fed into the plant with parts and services.

Anderson did quality control.  "If they had a quality problem in the pipeline, then we would help filter those problems out, before they got to the production floor."

Like many subcontractors, Supplier Link Services was attached to NUMMI at the hip.  That contract constituted 90% of its business.

When NUMMI closed, Supplier Link Services went from a company employing 30 people to one that employs three.  Continue reading »

Tesla Sues BBC's "Top Gear"

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Tesla claims the popular show faked a scene that appeared to show Tesla’s Roadster car running out of energy (about 5 minutes in):

In the episode, first broadcast in December 2008, Jeremy Clarkson takes a dubious approach to "brown rice, eco-cars" from the get-go. Then he gets excited driving a Tesla Roadster. "Wave goodbye to dial up, and say hello to broadband motoring!"  Then the car fails on him.

According to papers filed at the High Court in London, the Palo Alto firm alleges the Roadster pushed into a hangar hadn’t run out of power and didn’t need to be pushed. In other words, that the show producers faked it, and “grossly misled potential purchasers of the Roadster,” in the words of the filing. About 6 million potential purchasers - more, if you count the international audience. "Top Gear" has been the most-viewed show on BBC2 for a decade.

The BBC? “The BBC stands by the program and will be vigorously defending this claim.”

UPDATE: Top Gear responds.

Staying in California? Torrance Looks Good

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Sara Backner, son Jared and fiance Rocky Sayers, building a new life for themselves in Southern California.

Sara Backner, son Jared and Rocky Sayers, building a new life for themselves in Southern California.

Sara Backner worked at NUMMI for 13 years. Her last assignment there was Senior Group Leader in the Toyota Production System office. She was also one of 25 people who stayed on after NUMMI closed officially on April 1st, 2010 to decommission the plant, and ready it for Tesla, a much smaller operation.

"It was sad," she says. "It was very sad to see the machines being taken apart. It was like seeing someone with cancer dying slowly."

So now the Mexico City native is planning to move down from Stockton to Torrance. She'll be joining her fiance, Rocky Sayers, who's a general manager at TABC in Long Beach, Toyota's oldest manufacturing facility in North America. Continue reading »

More on the NUMMI Diaspora

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A NUMMI reunion at Sal's house in Union, Kentucky. (From right to left: Sal Sanchez, Brian Stout, Alex Do, Tony Banuelos, John Ortega, Matt Willis, Robert Pagan, and Jesse Contreras)

Salvador Sanchez worked at NUMMI for more than 18 years. He was a manager of a plastics shop, 45, and when the plant closed, the sole breadwinner for his family.

He grew up in Fremont, bought a house in Dublin, and moved to Union, Kentucky, to take a job with Dana Holding, a "world leader" according to the company's website, "in the supply of driveline products (axles and driveshafts), power technologies (sealing and thermal-management products), and genuine service parts."

Like many manufacturing companies, Dana thinks highly of TPS, or the Toyota Production System, and it wanted people like Sanchez to help spread the gospel. Dana operates in 26 countries. It runs 32 plants all over the US. When NUMMI closed, so did Dana's operation in Stockton, like many NUMMI suppliers in the Central Valley. Continue reading »

Moved to Kentucky

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Robert and DyAnn Pagan followed Toyota to Florence, Kentucky last year.

Robert Pagan filled a number of roles at New United Motor Manufacturing, Inc., but by the end, he was training supervisors. After Toyota announced it was pulling out of the plant in August, he could see NUMMI was going to close. By that time, he also knew his wife DyAnn would not have her job at a local pre-school when the school year ended in June. They were both essentially cut loose.

So Pagan applied for a job with Toyota, knowing it would take him and his family out of state. Technically, NUMMI was a separate entity from Toyota, a subcontractor, but the Japanese auto maker offered to honor Pagan’s 19 years of service with the company if he stayed on for five years.

"That's the biggest thing - securing our retirement," the 49 year old says. Continue reading »

Early Retirement Was Not an Option

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Wearing a suit now, because that's one of the "tools" of the insurance trade.

Wearing a suit now, because that's one of the "tools" of the insurance trade.

Jason Medeiros worked at New United Motor Manufacturing, Inc. for about 14 years. He started on the truck frame line, installing engines and connecting brake lines.  He worked the night shift for the first three years. That was a hard physical challenge, but that wasn't the end of it.

About nine years in, he developed a torn rotator cuff in his right shoulder. He was off work for about six months. Five years later, a wrist tendon "blew out on me." He was out for eight months that time.

"You work your body like a machine," Medeiros says, "and parts wear out eventually from the repetitious work." Continue reading »

LAN, or "Life After NUMMI"

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Mark & Gina O'Kennon retired early in Pensacola, Florida.

Mark O'Kennon was an Assistant Manager in Quality Control for the truck and car operations, overseeing as many as 180 people at New United Motor Manufacturing, Inc. when the plant closed last year. He was there for 25 years. He was 55 years old. He was also prepared for early retirement, financially and emotionally.

O' Kennon and his wife Gina already planned to move from Fremont to Pensacola, Florida, where she's got family.  They've been visiting for the last 20 years. The NUMMI closure simply accelerated their move east by a few years. They listed their house and sold it. On April 2nd, he left California. Gina, who had worked in human resources in the Bay Area, moved two weeks before.

"She would have supported me trying to find a new career [in Fremont]," O'Kennon says. "But at my age, the realities are, without a college education, I might go back to square one." Now he's just looking for a job, as opposed to a career, possibly something in tourism, something to bring in a little income while he eases on in to retirement. Continue reading »

Write a Resume to Win a Job

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(Credit: KQED/Myrow)

With unemployment in California resolutely stuck around 12.4%, I offer this tidbit from Craig Palmquist, manager of the NUMMI Reemployment Center in Fremont.  He's managed a number of similar centers around the country.

Palmquist says a lot of people go into the search for a new job still stuck in the mindset of their old job.

"You give me any job title you have, and I can help you define 200 or 300 different skills you have right now, and jobs you can apply to." Continue reading »

We'll Build Buses for China

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Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa poses for the cameras on a Balqon truck (Credit: Balqon)

This might have snuck past you over the weekend. Harbor City-based Balqon has signed a $16 million deal to build 300 drive systems for inner-city buses in China.

Balqon began building electric drayage trucks for Southern California ports in early 2009 - with $500,000 in seed money from the Port of Los Angeles and the South Coast Air Quality Management District. Now the company plans to hire 150 new workers to meet expanding demand from China.

The deal between Balqon and Winston Global Energy, a Chinese lithium-ion battery maker, creates a partnership to build electric buses, trucks, marine vessels and motorhomes. Yes, motorhomes. Continue reading »

Follow the Bubbles

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(Credit: Reed's, Inc.)

Honest, I'm not being paid for this plug.  I love Reed's ginger brew. So I felt compelled to click on the LA Business Journal's story on how the the beverage company got its fizz back after nearly going out of business in 2009.

The company had barely $100,000 in cash and a share price of less than $1 when Reed's began making private-label sodas for supermarkets and restaurants. Now it's producing 18 types of private-label sodas for four clients - and pumping money back into its core business.

Founder and Chief Bottle Washer Chris Reed remains hopeful about the reason he got into soda. “We think that the trend is going to move toward more natural. The world is turning into a more intelligent, hip, cool place.”  Is that what people think of me when I sip on a ginger beer? Who knew?