RAYMOND, Ohio -- Engineers who think seriously about joining Honda Motor Co.'s U.S. r&d unit must answer one daunting question: Do I want to work in a cornfield?
At a time when Traditional Detroit is downsizing, companies such as Honda, Toyota, Nissan and Hyundai are looking attractive for technical careers. Engineering operations such as Honda R&D Americas Inc. in Raymond, Ohio, have been steadily adding staff and building up capabilities since the early 1990s.
Charles Allen, general manager of the business unit, estimates the operation is adding about 100 people a year to its current staff of 1,300.
But Toyota, Nissan, Hyundai and other import brands stayed in the Detroit vicinity for their r&d needs.
"This is where the talent is," says Bruce Brownlee, general manager for corporate planning at Toyota Technical Center U.S.A. Inc. in Ann Arbor, Mich.
Metropolitan Detroit has big-city amenities and more than 200 r&d centers. Raymond, Ohio, has - well, corn.
For that reason, Honda relies more heavily on recent college engineering graduates than on trying to woo seasoned engineers away from the big city.
And more often than not, Honda's U.S. recruits will come from colleges in the same kind of farm belt environment that Honda itself operates in.
"We try to stay here in the Midwest as we look for people," says Carol Hadden, a human resources manager at the Honda operation. "Ohio State (University) has been good to us."
Honda rarely boasts about it, but the Japanese automaker's turf is an 8,000-acre plot in central Ohio, about 60 miles northwest of Columbus.
On those acres sit the Transportation Research Center, which Honda also owns, two massive Honda assembly plants in Marysville and East Liberty, and the ever-enlarging r&d center. The company is just completing a 15,000-square-foot addition to make room for more desks.
To avoid culture shock, Honda recruiters insist that aspiring Honda engineers have their first job interview on-site. "We make them come here to make sure they know where we are," says the soft-spoken Allen.
Allen joined Honda in 1978 when it had one small office in suburban Los Angeles. Then, Honda's small U.S. team simply made clay models and shipped them back to Japan for consideration. Today the Ohio center turns out complete vehicles, such as the Ridgeline pickup and Acura MDX SUV.
Allen acknowledges that Honda has a tough time recruiting people away from Texas or California.
"It's kind of an adjustment to come to Ohio," he acknowledges.
"But we find that the people who come here are highly motivated and enthusiastic."
You may e-mail Lindsay Chappell at [email protected]