WARRENVILLE -- By the end of this year, Bridgestone/Firestone Inc. expects to have at least 41 crew leaders undergoing intensive training at its new training center in Verenes Industrial Park near Aiken.
And by early 1998, the company expects to have 36 machine technicians also undergoing training, according to Howard Fikes, general manager for administration at the tire-manufacturing facility now under construction.
"We're building this plant three times faster than any other tire plant in the world, including those built by the Japanese, who are noted for doing things quickly," Mr. Fikes told the Midland Valley Chamber of Commerce Wednesday at their noon meeting.
The plant, which is to be the 17th tire manufacturing facility for the company,"is essential to Bridgestone's goal of attaining a 20 percent world market share by 2000," the year the Aiken County plant is expected to reach full capacity, said Bridgestone spokesman Trevor Hoskins has said.
Mr. Fikes noted that Bridgestone's share of the U.S. tire market has risen by 1 percent each of the past three years.
The facility, initially expected to employ about 400 people, is scheduled to begin production in the spring of 1999. By the year 2000, when it is fully staffed, the number of employees is expected to rise to 800.
Among the equipment to be installed at the new plant will be 22 machines that can turn out 2,500 light truck and passenger tires a day, from start to finish.
"This is the most advanced tire-making equipment in the world and operators will require extensive training," he said.
Both crew leaders and machine technicians will begin training on the local level with the assistance of South Carolina Special Schools. Later, they will undergo further training at Bridgestone/Firestone plants in North Carolina, Tennessee and Oklahoma. Crew leaders will also travel to Japan for an additional two to three weeks of training.
"One of the main reasons Bridgestone/Firestone came to Aiken County was our work force," Aiken County Council chairman Ronnie Young said.
"We are really excited that the company recognizes the skill and commitment of the workers of Aiken County," said Mr. Young, who is also president of the Midland Valley Chamber of Commerce.
Mr. Fikes said the company was particularly looking for people with computer and electronic skills and especially those who could be team players.
"The days of unskilled labor are over. Our machine technicians are highly skilled people who can work in a team environment," he said.
Bridgestone/Firestone officials have long maintained that 95 percent of the work force will be hired locally.
"This plant will be hiring people for years," Mr. Fikes said. "The only outsiders will be those needed for technology to get the plant started," he said.
Bridgestone/Firestone recently moved out of offices at the University of South Carolina-Aiken to the Verenes Industrial Park, occupying the building once owned by the Teledyne Corp.
Some key management positions will be filled by the parent company in Japan. Nobuo Kawakami has been named president of the Bridgestone/Firestone South Carolina Co., a separate corporate entity operating under the umbrella of Bridgestone/Firestone Inc. In addition, Tak Aoki, who is already at work in Aiken, will serve as Mr. Kawakami's assistant.
"This is a South Carolina company as the Bridgestone/Firestone SC name spells out," Mr. Fikes stressed. "The plant is being built because we couldn't meet the demand in this country and the tires made here will be sold in the United States."