November 21, 2014

The ribbon-cutting for Bridgestone’s new off-road radial tires facility is over, but the impact it will have on the local economy and education, in addition to the entire state, is just beginning.

Bridgestone brought hundreds out for its media day Tuesday on Giant Tire Parkway in Graniteville, where leaders and business partners spoke about the 1.5 million-square-foot facility. The total investment for the project is $1.2 billion. It is Bridgestone’s second tire-manufacturing plant in Aiken County and its first-ever plant for giant, off-road radial tires.

That type of investment in the local community has not been taken lightly by local leaders or leaders from across the state. Several of them attended Tuesday’s event and spoke about the various levels of impact.

The new facility will create 550 more jobs, a total of about 850 jobs for the project. Overall, the project will push Bridgestone to more than 2,000 employees in Aiken County.

Will Williams, president and CEO of the Economic Development Partnership, gave more insight on just how huge of a move it was. Williams said that during the site-selection process for the plant, Bridgestone considered other locations and there was never a guarantee Aiken would win a second facility.

“Because of not wanting to negatively impact the existing facility, we had to work overtime for 91 days to prove that the labor force, along with other infrastructure, was indeed here, and that they could build this new facility as well as expand the PSR operation,” Williams explained.

He added that Bridgestone’s final decision to invest another project in Aiken shows that the Fortune 500 company recognizes Aiken County Council’s efforts to maintain a favorable business climate.

“For a corporation like Bridgestone to put its single largest capital investment in the U.S. right here in Aiken County says they have a high level of confidence and satisfaction with the area,” Williams said.

David Jameson, president and CEO of the Greater Aiken Chamber of Commerce, explained that Bridgestone’s economic impact in Aiken stretches beyond the plant.

“They have contributed $6 million to local initiatives in the years since they arrived in Aiken County,” he said. “They do this because it is the right thing to do, not because they have to. Bridgestone is the perfect example of a corporate citizen.”

Educational impact

Ron Brooks, the plant manager of the new facility, said the company will be hiring for engineering, manufacturing and industrial maintenance positions over the next few months.

Those jobs, along with more potential jobs on the horizon, have strong implications for local colleges, according to officials.

Dr. Deidre Martin, the USC Aiken vice chancellor for advancement, said the school is excited about the opportunities for students to pursue careers at Bridgestone.

“With the planned addition of an undergraduate engineering degree in the fall of 2015, we believe we will be providing a committed and highly prepared workforce for many of the manufacturers in our area, including Bridgestone,” Martin said.

Dr. Susan Winsor, the president of Aiken Technical College, added that several of the school’s programs incorporate skills needed at Bridgestone, including construction of the Center for Energy and Advanced Manufacturing, which will expand its ability to provide manufacturing education.

“In addition, we have an ongoing partnership with Bridgestone in our Technical Scholars Program, an initiative designed to provide students a pathway to their associate degree, paid for by the company, while working and gaining valuable hands-on experience,” she said.

Statewide perspective

Gov. Nikki Haley couldn’t attend Tuesday’s event but sent comments via a pretaped video. Haley said the state and the company have a successful history of working together.

“Bridgestone is a great South Carolina company, employing thousands of our citizens and playing an active and positive role in their local community,” she said.

S.C. Rep. Bill Taylor, R-Aiken, took it a step further and said he was particularly struck by Bridgestone’s theme for the new plant: From Aiken County to the world.

“We are a right-to-work state, which makes us attractive to new industries; and we have Aiken Tech and USCA working closely with businesses to prepare the needed workforce with the right skills,” Taylor said. “With our mild weather and business-friendly climate, Aiken County is perfectly situated to host more global manufacturers.”

Derrek Asberry is the SRS beat reporter for the Aiken Standard.