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.
Sanchez was fortunate to have several job offers to choose from. Dana Holding won out because his family had already spent a few years in Erlanger, Kentucky, back when he was learning TPS with Toyota. The kids were game, and so was his wife, Leslie.
She worked at NUMMI herself for seven years. Now she home schools their three kids, ages three, eight and nine. It's a bigger challenge than it used to be back in Dublin. "The home school network in California is very, very tight, and very large. In Kentucky, he says, "You're on your own."
He misses the San Francisco International Film Festival. He misses the Nutcracker. He used to take his family to see it in San Francisco every year. Now, he drives them to Chicago. It's a five hour drive.
"I grew up in California and I never thought I would leave it," Sanchez says. "But I like what I do. I love what I do."
It's a story you hear often from people who worked at NUMMI, up and down the line. But there's a definite split, Sanchez says, between those who worked for a salary and those who were hourly. When NUMMI was shutting down, Toyota offered jobs to the former; the latter, not so much. Sanchez says he knows some hourly people who moved near Toyota facilities in Indiana, Kentucky, Texas, and Mississippi, in the hopes they might land something, even on a temporary basis. It's not a choice a lot of people can make.
But there's no question there's been an exodus of people from Northern California to the states where Toyota and its suppliers operate. when Sanchez held a NUMMI reunion party at his home last fall, 60 people showed up.