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Published: Wednesday, 2/10/2010

Factory town says Toyota can ride out recall storm

NEW YORK TIMES

GEORGETOWN, Ky. - Before Toyota Motor Corp. arrived here more than two decades ago, Georgetown was a sleepy town of 10,000. Its population has swelled to 25,000, and most of those people owe their livelihood to the Toyota plant outside town.

People here are eager for Toyota's recall problems to subside.

"I think they can get it worked out," said Jeni Gruchow, co-owner of Fava's restaurant. "It happens to other companies. It's horrible that it's happening to Toyota."

In Georgetown, which is about 15 miles west of Lexington, and other U.S. cities where Toyota operates plants, life is starting to return a bit more to normal this week as full vehicle production resumes after weeklong shutdowns to fix a problem with accelerator pedals.

Residents here expressed confidence that Toyota would thrive again. The town and the automaker are inextricably linked - the first Camry rolled off the line in 1988 - so it is in everyone's interest to see Toyota out of the headlines.

"Toyota's past will take care of its future," said George Lusby, the county judge executive.

The mayor, Karen Tingle-Sames, was just as optimistic.

"Really, the community has a lot of confidence in Toyota, that they will be able to work through and fix everything they need to fix and get on top of everything," she said.

Just down the street from Fava's, Jason Mays, a regular at the Lock and Key Cafe, speculated about the muted response here to Toyota's woes.

"In my honest opinion," he said, "I do not think it's as important to people as the Friday night Scott County game or the Saturday Georgetown College basketball game because they have enough faith in that behemoth of a plant three miles down the road, they are really not worried about it."

There is hope here that the full-court press on Toyota will lose steam.

But the coverage is likely to continue with a House committee scheduled to hold hearings about Toyota's handling of the recalls. If the tone is anything like the remarks of Ray LaHood, the transportation secretary, who last week briefly advised Toyota owners to stop driving their cars, confidence here may give way to anger.

"Why is this different than any other recall?" asked Jack Conner, director of the local chamber of commerce.



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