In every way but one, the color television factory in this pleasant country town is a classic American success story.
A year ago, the Warwick Electronics Co. plant, faced with falling sales and rising losses, cut its force to fewer than 400, adding more than 1,000 names to the unemployment rolls in this low-income region of rice and soybean fields.
Then a new management team took over, bringing innovative techniques and strict quality control. Today, the same plant has 1,300 full-time high and sales and profits are growing monthly.
All of which sounds like a standard chapter in the textbooks of American business acumen. In this chapter, though, the acumen came from Sanyo Denki kabushki Kaisha, the Japanese firm that bought out Warkwick late last year, (See FACTORY, A12, Col. 1) (FACTORY,From A1) and the small squadron of Japanese managers and technicians sent here to set things straight.
In addition to the promising financial figures since Sanyo's takeover. The curious marriage of Osaka and Arkansas seems to be a striking social success.
Despite severe language problems, the Japanese newcomers say they have been overwhelmed by the country hospitality (but not the country cooking)of this quiet community.
They have been assiduously studying Southern culture and visiting the region's leading tourist spots. "We had a wonderful trip through Missisisppi and Tennessee"said Kazuko Watanabe, wife of a Sanyo vice president. "The best part was Memphis - it was Elvis'home, you know."
The Watanabes had difficulty on their trip, however, deciphering the Deep South's particular brand of English, and their own pronunciation of the language. "We had terrible time finding Biloxi." Mrs. Watanabe says. "We kept asking people how to get to Burohshi' but nobody seemed to know."
The easy-going Arkansans here seem equally pleased with their new neighbors. "Even if they weren't giving us all jobs. I'd have to say they were real good people." A leader in the union local at the Sanyo plant said.
TAlthough the Japanese takeover came as something of thunderbolt here in the northeastern corner of Arkansas. The Forrest City situation is hardly unusual. In the past five years Japanese firms have taken over or built dozens of factories in the United States, producing everything from air-planes to zippers for American and foreign markets.
The new pressure for import quotas against foreign goods - as reflected in the "orderly marketing agreement" on Japanese color television sets that went into effect last month ' may well lead more Japanese manufacturers to seek American plants.
The impending television quota largely prompted Sanyo to buy the Forest City plant from Warwick, which was a subsidiary of Whirlpool Corp.
Warwick for years had held a lucrative contract to produced private label sets for Sears. Roebuck & co., the nation's largest television retailer. But in the early 1970s Warwick ran into serious quality problems. Its rate of rejected sets went far over the industry average, and Sears asked Sanyo to provide technical help.
But sanyo officials, guessing that a quota system was in the offing, offered instead to buy Whiripool's interest in the Warwick plant - and its Sears contract. The sale was consumated in December, 1976.
Sanyo quickly dispatched a team of technical experts from its Osaka headquarters, and the Japanese set out to tighten work standards in Forrest City.
"They're pretty picky people. You know? says Shirley McGuire, a long-time forewoman on a final assembly line. "They want everything done their way."
"They just stand there." says Dennis McGuire, a hefty high school football veteran who lifts 70-pound picture tubes into sets coming down the line.
"They stand there and look over your shoulder - except they're too short to see over my shoulder. They get about one inch away and don't move. I mean, I like them, they gave me my job back, but sometimes it gets to you."
In addition to regular observation along the assembly line. Sanyo installed numerous inspection sets moving through the plant.
The factory boasts its own broadcasting booth, to send test signals, and a "tumbler" device that flips completed sets 360 degrees through the air. If screw falls out, it is traced back to the worker who was supposed to install it.
In the Japanese corporate style. sanyo set out to create a "big happy family"atmosphere to enhance morale at the plant.
Among other things, the management brought along a variation of the Japanese concept fo lifetime employment. Unlike U.S. television firms. Which lay off most of the work force when production for the Christmas rush is finished. Sanyo says it will not cut employment in slack seasons.
In the paneled offices just off the sprawling factory floor. Sanyo is struggling to institute another Japanese tradition - management by committee.
In Japan, where group consciousness is transcendent social value. Coporate decisions are normally made by conscious among a team of top mananger.
Sanyo has transfered that notion to Forrest City by establishing a six-man "operating committee," half American and half Japanese, which is supposed to resolve business decisions ranging from where to buy million of dollars worth of parts to the weekly salary of an interpreter to aid Japanese employees at the plant.
"For some People it's been a hard adjustment," says Tanemichi Sohma, an Osaka native who is one of three Japanese on the committee.
"These people in Arkansas are pretty independent. Some of them couldn't stand making decisions in the committee. Of course, they had to leave."
Although the six committee members are supposed to have equal authority, several observers have concluded that Sohma is more equal than the rest. Language is his secret; he is the only person here who is fluent both in Japanese and English.
The amiable, energetic Sohma first came to the United States in, 1951 to take a job in Hollywood as Hedda Hopper's butler. (He recently published a memoir. "The Hollywood I Knew," that is selling briskly in Japan). As a result, he speaks a clear, if somewhat nonidiomatic English ""If people mass up, I will tell them hell," he says).
The other Japanese, most of whom have come to America for the first time, are doing their best to adjust despite two ubiquitous problem: language and food.
Although Arkansas is justly proud of its home-grown hogs, the Japanese here have not enjoyed the local bounty. Forrest City butchers don't cut meat in the slim pieces needed for Japanese cooking. The local delicacy, pork barbique, finds little favor with the Japanese palate.
The Japanese, who eat first daily at home, complain that they can't get seafood here, either. That seems to Arkansans, who can point out a cat-fist emporium on almost every major corner. The Japanese, though, universally say they find the taste of "cattofishn" replace.
Those problem have been out-weighed, however, by the friendly greeting the Japanese have received from the people of Forrest City.
"People here smile all the time," says a surprised Sumio Nakamura, a young electronics engineer.
Forrest City natives have clearly been impressed with the Japanese devotion to the job. "They're in there before the shirt starts in the morning," says Dennis McGuire, "and even when I work another half (shift) they're there after me."