Economic development depends on education, Toyota president tells chamber

Economic development in Kentucky depends on education, Susan Elkington, president of Toyota Motor Manufacturing Kentucky, told the Greater Owensboro Chamber of Commerce’s virtual Rooster Booster Breakfast on Thursday.

Toyota’s Georgetown plant is the largest in the world — an $8 billion operation with more than 10,000 employees producing up to 550,000 vehicles and more than 600,000 engines a year.

Elkington, a Dubois County, Indiana, native, is the first woman to be named president of one of Toyota’s 53 manufacturing plants worldwide.

“It’s all about education,” she told Clay Ford, chairman of the chamber’s board of directors, in the virtual interview.

“Investment in early childhood education is so important,” Elkington said.

Studies, she said, have shown that for every dollar invested in early childhood education, there’s a $5 return.

Elkington said Kentucky currently ranks 41st in the number of 3- and 4-year-olds enrolled in preschool.

“I see huge gaps in education,” she said.

Poverty levels in the state are very high, Elkington said.

In September, the U.S. Census Bureau said 21.7% of Kentucky children live in poverty and only four states had a higher rate.

“This is our future workforce,” Elkington said. “Education is a way to provide for the future. We have to think about long term.”

She said, “It’s not going to happen overnight. But we are stronger together than as individuals.”

Elkington earned her mechanical engineering degree from the University of Evansville.

She began her career with Toyota in 1998 in Princeton, Indiana, as an assembly engineering specialist.

By 2013, she was manufacturing vice president at Toyota Motor Manufacturing, Indiana.

Elkington later spent three years in Japan as general manager of the Production Control Division at Toyota Motor Corporation’s global headquarters.

Then in January 2017, she became senior vice president of the Kentucky plant, where she became president a year later.

Elkington was named to Automotive News’ 100 Leading Women in the North American Auto Industry last year and was an inaugural inductee into the Women in Manufacturing Hall of Fame.

By Keith Lawrence Messenger-Inquirer