Originally created 08/16/98

Tire plant about to open



GRANITEVILLE -- After a year of making tax deals, job announcements and headlines, Bridgestone/Firestone of South Carolina will start making tires.

The plant is scheduled to start cranking out test tires this month, culminating a saga that began a little more than a year ago.

As early as Aug. 6, 1997, reports began to surface that Aiken would probably win out over Jackson County, Ga., and be the site of the next Bridgestone/Firestone plant. The company officially announced Aug. 25 that it planned to build the plant in Aiken County.

Local involvement in the recruitment of the tire company began in April 1997, when a Chicago-based consulting company seeking a 400-acre development site for an unnamed company sent a fax to the Aiken-Edgefield Economic Development Partnership. Aiken County was chosen from 160 competing sites.

The Bridgestone/Firestone plant was both the largest publicly announced capital investment and the largest job offering in the state last year. Thanks in part to that announcement, Aiken County led South Carolina in capital investment the past calendar year, attracting $891.5 million in 1997.

The plant is expected to cost $435 million. Officials say this will be the fastest start-up time of any tire plant in the world.

Bridgestone/Firestone officials said they chose Aiken because of the quantity and quality of the available work force, its transportation infrastructure, proximity to customers, the availability of the site and overall attractiveness of the area.

The state gave Bridgestone/Firestone millions of dollars in tax breaks for locating in the state. This was money well spent, said state Rep. Roland Smith, R-Langley.

The company's 800 taxpaying employees will eventually pay for the incentives, he said.

Mr. Smith credits the rural development act, which was changed by the committee he chairs to allow Aiken County the same economic incentives allotted to areas with shrinking military bases, with helping to land the tire company in his county.

"Bridgestone/Firestone is certainly going to be a boost for many years to come," Mr. Smith said.

Aiken County lost 10,000 jobs starting in 1993, when the Savannah River Site went through a series of layoffs. Bridgestone/Firestone officials expect their plant to employ 300 to 400 people when it opens, and eventually put about 800 people to work.

The 1.5 million square-foot plant is being built in the Sage Mill Industrial Park, near Interstate 20. The plant is expected to produce 25,000 radial passenger car and light truck tires a day by 2000.

Bridgestone/Firestone is the principal subsidiary of the Bridgestone Corporation, the world's largest tire and rubber company.

Bridgestone/Firestone posted sales of $6.5 billion and net earnings of $172 million in 1996 and $7.1 billion in sales and $207 million in net earnings in 1997.

Bridgestone Corp., the parent company, announced in June that its net earnings for the first half of the year were $181 million, up 2.4 percent over the same period last year.

Bridgestone time line

April 1997: The Aiken-Edgefield Economic Development Partnership gets a fax from a consulting firm looking for a 400-acre site for an unnamed company.

Aug. 6, 1997: Reports surface that Bridgestone/Firestone will likely build a plant in Aiken County.

Aug. 26, 1997: Bridgestone/ Firestone makes it official: Company executives and Gov. David Beasley announce a factory will be built in the Sage Mill Industrial Park, on the border of Aiken and Edgefield counties.

Sept. 23, 1997: Company executives Howard Fikes, general manager of administration, and Tak Aoki, assistant to the president, open a

temporary office in Aiken.

Dec. 9, 1997: Mr. Fikes leaves the company to be closer to his family in Arkansas. Mr. Aoki assumes his responsibilities.

Jan. 25, 1998: Bridgestone/ Firestone places job ads. Thousands apply in the following weeks.

May 1, 1998: The company dedicates the factory in a ceremony because the building timetable didn't allow for a groundbreaking ceremony. Construction continues during the ceremony.

Aug. 1998: The company plans to make test tires, which will be sent back to Japan for study.

Spring 1999: Aiken County plant is expected to reach full production.