Bridgestone helps to make S.C. a hub of tire industry

April 20, 2012

The largest industrial development in South Carolina history is currently a vast, flat piece of dirt.

Construction on the new Bridgestone facility is under way at Sage Mill Industrial Park in Graniteville, four miles from the company’s passenger-tire facility. The new plant will produce off-road tires and bring 500 more jobs to Aiken County.

By the time the giant tires start rolling off the assembly line at Bridgestone two years from now, the new Graniteville plant will be contributing daily production that, coupled with growth at Michelin and Continental, will make South Carolina the nation’s tire capital.

Bridgestone is spending $1.2 billion to expand its passenger-tire plant and build a new facility nearby to produce off-road tires targeting the mining industry.

Construction of the new plant is in its first stages. Now that the trees have been cleared away, there is digging and concrete pouring in preparation for laying the foundation.

Bridgestone safety manager Michael Donato said about 150 people are working on the construction project, contracted to Birmingham, Ala.-based Brasfield & Gorrie, and recently, cement trucks poured 400 loads of concrete in a 24-hour period as part of the foundation process.

Hiring for the new plant is also in its initial stages. Of the 550 jobs at the off-road-tire plant, the tire maker is hiring 10 engineers and 28 maintenance workers. Machine operator jobs will open in June or July, according to Bridgestone Americas spokeswoman Angela Patterson Sikes.

Even with the announcement of two more massive tire plants in the last seven months, Bridgestone’s remains the largest in state history – and in the history of the Japanese tire company.

Michelin announced two weeks ago that it is going to build a plant in Anderson County to make heavy construction tires and expand its tire operations in Lexington County. The combined price tag of $1 billion will result in 750 new jobs.

Continental Tire recently broke ground on a $500 million plant in Sumter County. It will ramp up to 1,600 jobs by 2021.

South Carolina is second in daily production, 84,000 tires, just behind Oklahoma’s 89,000. Ohio, the headquarters for Goodyear and long thought of as the rubber capital of the country, produces only 24,400 tires a day and is ranked 10th in state production, according to trade publication Tire Business. South Carolina will likely take the title of No. 1 in 2013.

The state’s administration points to three factors to explain the explosion of tire factory investment over the last seven months.

“We’ve been very aggressive about saying the cost of doing business is low,” Gov. Nikki Haley said Thursday. “We have an amazing, well-trained workforce, and we are one of the least-unionized states in the country. Those three things matter when you combine a direct relationship with the governor.”

Michelin initially located in South Carolina 40 years ago, and its continued expansion can be seen as a compliment to the state, Haley said. “I really think for the tire industry, when they saw how well Michelin had been doing … and then you see the average tenure for a Michelin employee is 24 years, that says a lot about the loyalty from the people of South Carolina.”

More tire-plant announcements to come? Haley said she’s not aware of more tire company expansions.

“But if you read the press from around the country, South Carolina is the hot state to look at,” Haley said. “When I meet with a company, I tell them that I’ll be their No. 1 employee. I tell them that we will fight for them. They all saw how hard we fight when we fought for Boeing.”

Boeing’s new aircraft facility in Charleston started momentum that carried into Amazon’s new facility near Columbia.

Then Bridgestone trumped the dollar investment in October.

Of the $1.2 billion, $346 million is being spent to expand the existing tire plant in Sage Mill Industrial Park. The expansion is expected to be finished in the summer of 2013. By then, the first phase of the new tire plant should be complete.

In total, Bridgestone will employ 850 more people in Aiken County.

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