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. They make sheet metal components, steering columns, catalytic converters, coated catalytic substrates, and weld sub-assemblies.
Backner, 40, wants to be a consultant, sharing the Toyota Production System with Southern California companies. Already, she's received offers through her Linked in profile.
"I don't even have my resume out," she says. "I only have the Linked in, but that's how people have been connecting." Key words like "Lean Manufacturing" and "TPS" make all the difference, and she's planning to use her federal TAA benefits to study for another valuable certification: Six Sigma, a business management strategy developed at Motorola.
Like her fiance, Backner applied for jobs with Toyota, but the three she was offered would have required moving out of state, to Kentucky, Indiana, or Texas. "That was a very hard decision for me. I had to think about what is important right now. My family? Or my retirement?"
Backner isn't quite over the loss of NUMMI. "I drove almost two hours in the morning to go to work, then spent 10-12 hours, depending on if we had model changes or problems, and then come back again and spend another two hours on the road." NUMMI, she says, was her "second home."
Aside from Rocky, she doesn't know anybody in the LA area. But for the second time in her life, she says, she knows "In my heart, I have to move on."
From early scouting visits, she's enthusiastic about Torrance. It's not lost on her that a lot of Japanese and Japanese-Americans live there. For a NUMMI alumn, that's a big plus.