Bridgestone to create 850 jobs in Aiken County

Bridgestone Americas, Inc. plans to build a 1.5 million-square-foot facility in Aiken County to produce off-road tires, the company announced Wednesday.

The new manufacturing facility will be built on undeveloped land at Sage Mill Industrial Park four miles away from the company’s existing passenger tire facility, which will also be expanded next year.

For both projects, Bridge­stone will spend $1.2 billion.

The projects will increase employment by 850 full-time and contractor positions.

Previously, large and ultra-large off-road tires had been produced exclusively at Bridgestone Corp.’s Shimonoseki and Kitaky­ushu plants in Japan.

The manufacturing equipment for the plants will be made overseas and shipped to the Granite­ville plant.

“Today’s announcement represents the largest initial capital investment by a company in our state’s history, and we celebrate the more than 850 new jobs. This is a continuation of the good work we are doing to partner with companies. South Carolina has a great reason to smile today,” Gov. Nikki Haley said.

The large and ultra-large tires, which are used on quarry and mine hauling trucks, weigh 5.5 tons each, support 22,000 pounds and stand 1.5 stories tall. One mining vehicle with six tires weighs 1.3 million pounds.

Will Williams, of the Economic Development Partnership, a group that works to promote capital investment in Aiken and Edgefield counties, said the Bridgestone expansion will help people recovering from previous hard times in the area.

“It shows the work force is still here. We have a great opportunity for the people of Graniteville,” Williams said.

The Graniteville expansions mark the largest investment of Bridge­stone manufacturing in the U.S., said Eduardo Minardi, the chairman and president of Bridgestone Americas Tire Operations.

“We can build these tires in South Carolina and be competitive. A big reason are the excellent business conditions in this state,” Minardi said.

The plant’s additional production of 4.4 million tires a year will respond to an increased demand for production of strategic tires, or high- and ultra-high-performance tires, he said.

“Globally, the demand for off-road radial tires is steadily increasing as the need for mineral materials increases in developing countries,” said Gary Garfield, the CEO and president of Bridgestone Americas Inc.

Expansion of the existing plant will add 740,000 square feet with an expected completion date in 2013. The plant will produce 13.4 mil­lion tires annually.

The South Carolina Depart­ment of Commerce provided
$15.5 million in grants to the company for infrastructure and site preparation, including about
$6 million to improve public roads adjacent to the facility. The Coordinating Council also approved the project for job development credits.

The first off-road tire is expected to come off the line in spring 2014. The first phase of the new plant, set for completion in 2015, will create more than 330 full-time and contractor jobs. When fully completed in 2020, the plant is expected to employ 550.

“We thought it was a small project then all the sudden the next project was there,” said Bobbie Hitt, South Carolina’s Secretary of Commerce. “We’ve done this very, very quickly.”

The new facility and expansion of the current facility were termed Project Hercules, and work began in June to secure the investment, Hitt said.

The investment, Haley said, comes on the heels of other major projects such as the $750 million initial investment from the Boeing corporation in 2009 and a $1 billion plant in Anderson, S.C., for First Quality Tissue.

“Project Hercules is exactly what we need. This is a massive investment in South Carolina. It’s a massive job hire for South Carolina,” she said. “We’re very proud of the businesses that are in South Carolina, because they understand what it means to have a direct relationship with the employer and the employee.”

The state has a growing reputation for successful manufacturing operations and hard-working people to fill jobs, which attracts companies such as Bridgestone to invest, Hitt said. Of the state’s work force, 16.5 percent of jobs are in manufacturing, he said.

“People know we can build things here. We build quality things here,” Hitt said. “This is the first time we’ve really cracked 1 billion (dollars). That’s a big deal.”

Construction for the new facility and expansion will begin next month, spurring immediate job creation, said Garfield. Hiring for manufacturing jobs could begin as early as January, he said.

“For all of us at Bridgestone, it’s particularly gratifying that we can do an investment like this in the United State at this time when it needs this kind of economic boost. And it’s particularly gratifying that we can do it in Aiken County, as well, when the county and state as well can always use this kind of economic boost,” Garfield said.

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