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Garden State holds picnic to celebrate Toyota relationship

June 06, 1997

By KAREN MASTERSON|

Staff Writer

Garden State Tanning's Williamsport plant is throwing a picnic Saturday to celebrate the company's relationship with the Japanese automaker, Toyota.

The local plant is the only U.S. supplier of leather seats for several of Toyota's luxury and mid-priced cars. It received two 1996 awards for being a "superior supplier," according to Martha Voss, Toyota's U.S. sales spokeswoman.

But in May 1995, Garden State sent nearly 600 layoff notices to employees. By June, employment at the plant dropped from 650 workers to 70.

The reason: Deteriorating U.S.-Japan trade relations.

U.S. trade representatives accused the Japanese of unfair trade practices in autos and auto parts, and threatened to slap heavy tariffs on 11 Japanese luxury cars in retaliation.

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The effect would have made the cars too expensive to sell in the United States, eliminating Toyota's contracts with Garden State Tanning.

"I'm sure (U.S. Trade Representative Mickey Kantor) didn't understand the unintended consequences on companies like Garden State," U.S. Rep. Roscoe Bartlett, R-Md., said in a phone interview.

At the time of the trade dispute, Bartlett wrote a letter to Kantor warning that the sanctions would unfairly hurt U.S. companies.

The Japanese government resolved the dispute by agreeing to buy more from U.S. auto manufacturers.

Garden State's Williamsport plant was not only restored to full employment, it has since added 200 jobs, said Glenn Thornley, a Garden State vice president.

With 850 employees, the plant will supply leather for roughly 175,000 Toyotas this year, he said.

The Williamsport plant used to supply leather to Chrysler and General Motors, according to Thornley. But in the early 1990s, the plant was reorganized in cooperation with Japanese executives to help Garden State capture Japanese contracts. It now specializes as a Toyota supplier, he said.

"We remade our company to mirror that of Toyota," making it easier to understand and meet Toyota's expectations, he said.

Most plant employees are going to the picnic, said Ronald Palmer, president of Local 658-T of the the Union of Needletrade Industrial and Textile Employees.

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