JUMP START: Japan Comes to the Heartland by David Gelsanliter

JUMP START: Japan Comes to the Heartland

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A digressive but pointed inquiry into how Japanese auto-makers are faring in America's lower Midwest and upper South. A Knight-Ridder executive turned free-lance, Gelsanliter focuses on Honda, Nissan, and Toyota, all of which eschewed industrial centers in favor of rural townships when they decided to build manufacturing facilities in the US. A native of Ohio, he was attracted to the subject by Honda's success in his home state. In addition to probing how the so-called transplants have been proceeding commercially and diplomatically, the author assesses their impact not only on host communities but also on other constituencies. On balance, he concludes, the invasion has proved a mutually advantageous proposition. While the Japanese (who leave precious little to chance) have shown almost no inclination to adapt to American production methods, Gelsanliter notes that they have made vast investments that benefit exurban locales, in part by creating secure, fulfilling jobs that keep young people close to their roots. On the minus side of the ledger, the expatriate enterprises have yet to exhibit a genuine commitment to equal employment opportunity, much less affirmative action. But with layoffs a last resort and training programs that emphasize teamwork and versatility, the Japanese, Gelsanliter says, have (despite the undeniable stress of their assembly lines) taken a giant step toward making labor/management relations appreciably less adversarial. Whether the conformist, consensus-minded foreigners will learn to value the spontaneity and individualism more characteristic of US hands, however, remains an open question for the author. An engaging and professionally reported briefing on the implications as well as the anecdotal facts of a period of adjustment. (For a complementary account of life at a Japanese auto-maker in Michigan, see Joseph L. Fucini & Suzy Fucini's Working for the Japanese, p. 775.)

Pub Date: Aug. 1st, 1990
Publisher: Farrar, Straus & Giroux