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Auto industry a centerpiece of state's economy

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Gestamp. Hino Motors. Toyota. Sogefi. These are just a few of the foreign-based auto and auto parts manufacturers with a presence in West Virginia.

Since Toyota came to Buffalo in Putnam County in the 1990s, more than a dozen companies have followed suit, setting up manufacturing plants that make a variety of components for a variety of vehicles — all while pumping money into the local economy and providing jobs for West Virginians.

Keith Burdette, secretary of the West Virginia Department of Commerce, said the auto industry is one that is projected to continue to grow.

"(It) is one of the sectors that West Virginia has targeted for development to diversify our economy, and it is a growing sector of our economy," he said. "The state's automotive community now includes such renowned names as Toyota Motor Manufacturing West Virginia, Hino Motors Manufacturing U.S.A., NGK Spark Plugs USA, Diamond Electric, Allevard Sogefi USA, Gestamp and more."

According to the West Virginia Development Office's website, the state saw more than $1 billion in investment and 2,000 new jobs between 1990-2004.

Auto manufacturing companies continue to expand in the state. In December, NGK Spark Plug announced it would expand and manufacture a new kind of spark plug. That expansion is expected to create 34 jobs. In Williamstown, Hino Motors also recently expanded and plans to invest another $3 million in the Wood County facility, which manufactures trucks.

Hino's expansion comes after a trying time for the company. The 2011 earthquake and tsunami affected the stream of supplies available to the company's manufacturers.

"They made hard decisions about how to balance these influences while keeping their skilled work force and maintaining a presence in the mid-Ohio Valley," said Jill Parsons, president and CEO of the Chamber of Commerce of the Mid-Ohio Valley. "Fast forward a year and operations are ramped back up."

Gestamp, based in Spain, invested $100 million into a facility in South Charleston last year and created 700 jobs. It is the largest automobile stamping company in the world and manufactures parts for BMW, Mercedes, Volkswagen, General Motors, Honda, Toyota and Ford. Craig Parsons, vice president of business development for Gestamp North America, said parts manufactured here will be part of automobiles driven across the country and the globe.

Toyota Motor Manufacturing West Virginia has expanded seven times since the mid-1990s, investing millions of dollars each time. According to the Putnam County Chamber of Commerce, the annual payroll for West Virginians employed at the plant totals $123 million, including benefits. The plant employs 970 full-time employees.

Allevard Springs, a subsidiary of Italian company Sogefi, built a $27 million facility in Pritchard in 2004. The plant expanded in 2006 thanks to a $7 million investment to install new production line equipment.