Continental rolls out new Sumter plant in ceremony

rburris@thestate.comJanuary 28, 2014 

— C Continental Tire marked the official start of production Wednesday at its gleaming new plant in Sumter, rolling off its first new tires three months ahead of schedule.

The $500 million manufacturing facility, hailed by some as the largest economic development and job creation initiative in the area’s history, is projected to employ 1,600 workers and produce 8 million tires a year when it reaches full capacity in the next seven years.

Continental said those tires, which will be made at the 500-acre plant site just east of downtown Sumter, are needed to help meet the increasing passenger and light truck demand for Continental and General brand tires in both the replacement market and for automotive manufacturers.

German officials also alluded to a plan that could bring 10,000 additional jobs and more investment to the state.

Despite encroaching wintry weather, about 200 or more people showed up at the plant, where Continental officials from the Midlands and abroad joined Gov. Nikki Haley and state and local elected leaders to mark the occasion.

“Today’s celebration is recognition of the successful collaboration between business and government,” said Jochen Etzel, Continental Tire the Americas CEO, acknowledging efforts by Haley, the state Ports Authority, the state Commerce Department, Sumter city and county leaders and dozens of others. “Their strong support made this project possible.”

Craig Baartman, Sumter plant manager, noted construction began at the plant in June 2012, with the first machine installed there a year later. This month, the plant got the go-ahead to begin production, three months early. Today, the mammoth plant has about 400 people working there, with plans for 200 more by year’s end, Baartman said.

Nikolai Setzer, a Continental executive board member who also heads the company’s global business, said the Sumter plant is a key to the German tire maker’s plans of expanding its business base in the United States.

“This beautiful new facility contains the highest level of machinery and technology to produce the best car and light truck tires possible,” Setzer said.

Peter Ammon, the German ambassador to the United States, touted the South Carolina-Germany business partnership, noting the country is this state’s second-largest export recipient.

“There is more good news to come,” Ammon said. “There are negotiations underway for a Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership and there are studies that show that South Carolina would profit from such an agreement, far more than any other U.S. state,” he said.

South Carolina’s exports to the European Union could double under the agreement, Ammon said, and add 10,000 new jobs in the Palmetto State.

Haley said her administration is studying the proposal.

“Today we are celebrating the opening of Continental Tire’s Sumter facility – a $500 million investment that is creating 1,600 jobs,” Haley said. “This is another example proving that Team South Carolina can deliver products of the highest standards and meet the demands of companies around the world.”

The plant will ramp up production in phases, the company said, producing 5 million tires in 2017 and 8 million tires per year by 2021.

The jobs are expected to pay wages 25 percent higher than the median income earned in Sumter and spur more than $670 million in related economic activity in the area, according to a statement released by the National Development Council, a national non-profit organization that financially-backed the Continental deal.

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