The rubber meets the road this week for two major South Carolina tire manufacturers.
Bridgestone opened its first off-road giant radial tire production plant in the United States Tuesday in Aiken County, where the company will manufacture heavy-duty tires for earthmover vehicles.
The plant, a 1.5 million-square-foot manufacturing facility in Trenton, has been in the works since 2011 and is the tire maker’s second production plant in Aiken County. The new tire plant is a $1.2 billion local investment the company announced three years ago.
On Thursday, Michelin, which has built tires in the Palmetto State since 1975 and has 10 plants here, will open a new and innovative tire plant in Piedmont to make an airless radial tire that never goes flat for commercial use. The plant is the world’s first dedicated solely to airless tires, the company said.
Over the past few years, South Carolina has catapulted into the largest tire manufacturing location in the nation with the Bridgestone addition, new production facilities also announced in 2011 by Continental Tire in Sumter, followed by expansions in the Upstate and in Lexington County by Michelin.
In June, Giti Tire, the world’s 10th-largest tire company, unveiled plans to construct a $560 million tire plant in Chester County, creating an estimated 1,700 new jobs.
Bridgestone began initial operations in Aiken in August. The plant produces various off-road radial tire products used to equip heavy-haul trucks in mining and aggregates applications such as for gravel, granite, limestone and other components.
Headquartered in Nashville, Tenn., Bridgestone Americas is the U.S. subsidiary of Tokyo-based Bridgestone Corp., billed as the largest tire and rubber maker in the world. In conjunction with the Aiken announcement in 2011, the company also said it plans to expand production capacity at Bridgestone Americas plants in Tennessee and Japan.
The Clarksville, Tenn., and Saga, Japan, locations are suppliers of the Aiken County Off-Road Radial Tire Plant, Bridgestone said, as steel cord is a key component used to build large and ultra-large off-road radial tires.
Bridgestone, meanwhile, has been building tires in Aiken County since 1998.
“The opening of a new off-road radial tire plant in South Carolina is a strategic business decision that will give Bridgestone the capacity to build these tires domestically and improve our supply systems globally,” said Gary Garfield, Bridgestone Americas CEO, in a released statement.
“Long term, the mining segment will grow, and we are now better-positioned to respond more quickly, efficiently and reliably to the needs of our customers.”
Approximately 2,000 people now work at the two Bridgestone plants in Trenton and Graniteville, the company said – 350 at the new off-road radial tire plant, with expectations to hire 200 more personnel at the new plant when it reaches full production capacity in two or three years.
Bridgestone has put a significant technological and training investment into producing leading off-road radial tires, Bridgestone Corp. chief operations officer Kazuhisa Nishigai said of Tuesday’s plant opening. “We remain highly committed to our mining customers around the globe and will continue to make the right investments for this important segment of our business.”
State and local officials also were on hand for the major plant opening.
“Bridgestone is a great South Carolina company, employing thousands of our citizens and playing an active and positive role in their local community,” said Gov. Nikki Haley in a statement posted on Bridgestone’s website. “We look forward to seeing the new plant reach full production and bring even more jobs to Aiken County.”