SUMTER, S.C. — Tire companies have promised almost $2 billion and more than 2,900 jobs in South Carolina this year, giving a state with the nation’s fourth-highest unemployment rate a bright spot.
They’ve added to South Carolina’s status as the nation’s top employer of tire workers. The jobs and investments are coming as consumers keep cars longer and buy more replacement tires.
On Thursday, Continental AG announced it would put $500 million into a Sumter tire plant that will employ 1,600 when its two-phase project is finished in 10 years.
The Sumter metropolitan area’s most reliable economic engine is an Air Force base. Sumter County’s jobless rate in August was 11.8 percent.
It’s a tough place for a new business. Braden Bunch knows. This year, he left a state Commerce Department job to open a sandwich and coffee shop just off Sumter’s Main Street.
“We’re not going to be a one-horse town anymore because of this,” he said. “Now we’re going to be more than a military town.”
He hopes the plant will bring commuters through downtown.
South Carolina has announced at least $3 billion in manufacturing investment this year; tire manufacturers account for $1.9 billion. The state has announced about 8,000 manufacturing jobs; tire makers account for at least 2,950.
Last month, Bridgestone Americas Inc. said it would invest more than $1 billion in two Aiken County projects that would add 850 jobs to its operations by 2020. In April, Michelin North America broke ground on a $200 million expansion of a Lexington facility that would add 270 jobs during the next two years. And in June, Tire International said it would invest $25 million for a tire recycling and manufacturing operation that will employ 150 in Berkeley County.
For all the good news, it won’t soon put a dent in the state’s job deficit. State unemployment grew by 3,300 to 239,170 between July and August, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.