Bridgestone has hired about 300 people for its new tire plant in Aiken County and likely will need a new pool of applicants by the beginning of the new year.
The company will require about 550 employees to run the off-road radial tire production plant when it is up to full capacity.
The initial pool of applicants was 3,500, said Steve Brooks, the chief project officer for Bridgestone Americas, who said the pool will need to be replenished in early 2014 as Bridgestone hires enough people to run the facility.
“There is about a 10 percent success rate after the initial testing,” Brooks said.
With such a small percentage making the cut, the initial pool would be depleted in the first quarter, he explained.
Tire manufacturing experience is not necessarily a qualifier to work at the new facility.
“What we’re looking for are people who have the right aptitude and attitude,” Brooks said.
The plant will produce 49-inch and 63-inch tires mainly used in quarry and mining operations. The factory is being constructed to meet the demand in North America.
The 1.5 million-square-foot facility is under construction in Graniteville’s Sage Mill Industrial Park four miles away from the company’s existing passenger tire facility. The plant, combined with the expansion at the passenger tire facility, is part of the largest industrial investment project in South Carolina history at $1.2 billion.
Most of the first phase, the 49-inch tire production line, is finished, Brooks said. The plant is on schedule and made its first tire Oct. 5.
Brooks said it is a development tire – like the “cake in the oven for the first time” – and has been sent to another Bridgestone facility for quality testing.
Full production is not expected until March. Until then, the new equipment will be tested and used to train workers.
The off-road tires have been produced exclusively at Bridgestone Corp.’s Shimonoseki and Kitakyushu plants in Japan. Brooks said 11 groups of new employees have been sent to the Japanese facilities to be trained on their operation and maintenance.
Two groups of technicians and operators are in Japan now.
The first phase will amount to $400 million of the $800 million the entire campus will cost to build, Brooks said. Construction workers started last month on the second phase, expected to be done sometime in 2016 and reaching full production of the 63-inch tires in 2018.
Brooks said there is another portion of the second phase that will give the plant additional capacity, but market conditions will dictate when it happens.
At peak, there were 750 construction workers on site, Brooks said.