Wheelin’ and dealin’: Aiken contributes to SC’s tire supremacy

March 9, 2015

It wasn’t much of a surprise that South Carolina recently was labeled as the premier tire state in the nation, especially for the two major tire companies in and around Aiken County that together employ more than 4,000 workers.

A study analyzing the cash cows for each state was released last week by Pew Charitable Trusts, a Washington-based group that works to protect the environment, encourage responsive government, support scientific research and improve civic life.

Indiana, for example, has six times as many boilermakers as the national average, and Hawaii has nearly 13 times as many exotic dancers as the national average, according to the study.

The Palmetto State’s calling card seems to be tires, as the state boasts 12 times as many tire builders compared to the national average.

The Pew report based these findings on the number of people in a given occupation per capita to the national average.

One of the key companies that supports that statistic is Bridgestone Americas, which employs about 2,000 workers in Graniteville.

The company set up shop in Aiken County in 1998 with the opening of its passenger-tire plant. The success of the plant inspired Bridgestone to become its own neighbor. So in November, the company held the ribbon-cutting for its off-road radial tire plant, the opening of its largest manufacturing investment in corporate history.

The facility created 550 more jobs, a total of about 850 jobs for the project.

Rachel Withers, the communications manager for Bridgestone Americas, wrote in an email that the company’s commitment to the state includes a capital investment of more than $850 million.

“Bridgestone’s commitment to investing in Aiken County, as well as the state’s willingness to incentivize, has continually enhanced the attractiveness of surrounding sites to other industrial projects,” Withers wrote.

Leaving Bridgestone and heading about 40 miles east on I-20, another booming leader in the tire industry, Michelin North America, owns two more tire plants in Lexington.

The company came to Lexington in 1981 and added the second plant in the area in 1998.

Together, the two plants employ more than 2,200 workers.

Tony Fouladpour, the director of corporate public relations, said that of the company’s 16 U.S. plants, 10 of them are in the Palmetto State.

When asked about the company’s big investment in the state, Fouldapour narrowed it down to five points: a devoted workforce, a diverse workforce, good technical institutions, the Port of Charleston and a business-friendly state.

“We take great pride in South Carolina being the top tire-producing state, as Michelin was the first to establish this industry here,” Fouldapour said. “We like to say that the other tire makers discovered what we knew more than 40 years ago.”

South Carolina’s position in the tire industry is only moving up as another competitor, Giti Tire, broke ground last month in Chester County. Joined by Gov. Nikki Haley, the company announced that it will produce passenger and light truck tires in the plant, which is expected to be operational by 2017. The plant is expected to generate 1,700 new jobs over the next 10 years.

Will Williams, the president and CEO of the Economic Development Partnership, also spoke about the advantages South Carolina offers, including the Charleston port, the rail service and the ability to transport finished goods.

“Our five interstate highways allows transport of raw material in, and then finished goods to 75 percent of the U.S. population in no more than one day,” Williams said. “South Carolina’s lower cost of doing business than other states is part of that business case and why we have been successful with Bridgestone locally and other tire producers locating in the state.”

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