A Columbus-based company that has helped fuel the local economy for three decades celebrated its move into a more electric-centric future on Wednesday.

Officials from Toyota Material Handling, the city, state legislature and Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb put shovels in the dirt in the groundbreaking for the company’s new 295,000 square-foot manufacturing facility on Wednesday morning.

The company is investing nearly $100 million into the facility focused on the production of electric forklifts, directly north of their current facility where they first broke ground 35 years ago this month.

Toyota Material Handling Senior Vice President of Operations, Engineering and Strategic Planning Tony Miller has said in city meetings leading up to the groundbreaking that electric forklifts currently make up 65% of the North American market, and with the new facility, company officials hope that share grows to 80% by 2030.

“We are excited about this significant strategic expansion to our Columbus campus,” Miller said. “At Toyota, we will always be driven by what is best for our customers. Electric products are more popular than ever, and we are committed to doing whatever it takes to keep up with increased demand. This new factory will allow us to deliver those electric units to customers faster than we can today.”

The expansion will create 85 jobs at an average wage of $28.88 and retain the current 1,883 workers. The new employees are expected to be hired by 2026, with the hope being that production at the new facility begins in June 2026, per TMH.

“We hope this announcement shows our industry-leading dealer network and our customers that we are a proactive company, not a reactive one,” Toyota Material Handling North America President and CEO Brett Wood said. “We do not just plan for next week or next year — we’re preparing for the next decade, and this new initiative perfectly represents our commitment to that strategy.”

Coming off the 108th running of the Indianapolis 500, Wood introduced Holcomb by way of comparing the Indy cars that roared Sunday in Speedway with Toyota Material Handling’s vehicle of choice.

“Our forklifts, they might go about 50 miles per hour, maybe downhill a little bit, so they’re maybe not the fastest vehicles you’ve seen in the last couple of days, but they’re the strongest— and they can pick up a lot of weight, they can pick up an IndyCar without a problem,” Wood said.

Nearly two years ago, Holcomb stood in what would become NexusPark to announce projects across the state approved for economic developments funds. Wednesday he spoke in Toyota Material Handling’s rotunda nearing the end of his two terms as governor praising the company’s continued investment in the region.

“It’s always good to be back in these neck of the woods,” Holcomb said. “Always something good going on to celebrate and this is just yet another reminder of the momentum that we’re feeling throughout the state of Indiana.”

Company officials say, including the new facility, Toyota Material Handling has completed more than 15 total expansions, with more than $400 million in total investments.

“We’re so grateful to see Toyota continuing to invest heavily in southern Indiana,” Holcomb said. “Toyota’s been a cherished partner and career cultivator to the state for the last 35 years, and we look forward to strengthening our bond even more in the decades to come in and around the Columbus region.”

Wood took a moment to thank the Columbus Redevelopment Commission, Columbus City Council and Columbus Economic Development Corp., who each had representatives attending the event.

“In this project, it truly takes a village,” Wood said.

“Beginning in 1990 when Toyota built their initial plant in Columbus, we’ve seen the impact the company has had on the area through the high-quality careers they provide, and through the work they’ve done for Columbus and Bartholomew County,” Columbus Mayor Mary Ferdon said. “… We look forward to this expansion and our continued relationship and partnership with Toyota as we build a prosperous community for all.”

The new facility will help the company produce more electric forklifts in part because of how the new facility will help with the efficiency of parts, according to Miller.

“Containing that under one roof, as opposed to two different buildings, is a pretty significant advantage,” he said.

Coming out of the pandemic, the company had record backlogs in lead time in filling orders for electric forklifts, according to Toyota officials.

Miller observed the material handling industry is in “quite a different place” than the automotive industry with regard to electric vehicles — building the charger infrastructure for electric forklifts is much simpler, he said, adding that environmental, social and governance (ESG) initiatives have assisted in expanding the market.

Many of the employees that will ultimately work in the facility are likely to come from the local community— Miller estimated that 80% of their workers come from Bartholomew County and the five counties surrounding it.

“We’re all about family and family values and having the knowledge of the amount of security this investment brings, is critical to them,” Miller said of TMH’s employees. “I think over the last few years, inflation’s been pretty tough on our associates and we’re committed as a company to make sure that they are compensated fairly and can continue to live a good life.”

When the new factory is complete, Toyota’s Columbus footprint will grow to nearly 1.8 million square feet, six times larger than the 280,000 square-foot facility first opened in 1990.

Based on the company’s job creation and training plans, the Indiana Economic Development Corporation committed an investment in Toyota Material Handling of up to $1.1 million in conditional tax credits and up to $200,000 in training grants. These incentives are performance-based, meaning the company is eligible to claim state benefits once Hoosiers are hired and trained. The city of Columbus offered additional incentives.