The chairman of Michelin North America believes South Carolina’s roads are a “disgrace” and is asking state leaders to find a way to fix them.
Pete Selleck, president and chairman of the Greenville-based Michelin North America, spoke of his observations last week during his company’s recruiting trip to the University of South Carolina’s Darla Moore School of Business.
In response to a question from a student about challenges faced by the company, Selleck said, “The roads in this state are a disgrace.”
He went on to say that if the state’s leaders fail to solve the projected $42 billion funding shortfall for long-term infrastructure needs, “Then Michelin is going to have to look about further expansion in this state.”
A Michelin spokeswoman said Monday the company isn’t threatening to leave the state and Selleck’s remarks were aimed at the state’s long-term situation.
“It’s easy for anyone to see the condition of the roads in our state,” Selleck said in a statement. “We’re asking our government leaders to work together to reach a long-term solution to this problem.”
Lawmakers have said the state’s crumbling infrastructure will be a top priority when they return to work in January. The Senate set infrastructure funding as a priority for debate earlier this year but never took up the road funding legislation.
Gov. Nikki Haley has said she plans to disclose her plan for fixing the state’s roads to legislators in January.
Rep. Gary Simrill, a Rock Hill Republican and chairman of a House committee studying the roads issue, said he agrees with Selleck’s assessment.
“I am glad we are hearing from employers in this state,” he said. “It helps the system realize the importance of what we are dealing with in infrastructure.”
Sen. Mike Fair, a Greenville Republican, said he believes Selleck’s comments will be noticed by lawmakers.
“His stature puts him on a long list of people of stature who have made similar kinds of comments,” he said. “It’s significant that the big players — the ones who use the port — are complaining. They depend on good roads to ship their goods and receive raw materials.”
Fair predicted that comments from Selleck and other business leaders could tip the debate in the Legislature toward finding a solution.
Bill Ross, executive director of the South Carolina Alliance to Fix Our Roads, said Selleck’s remarks are what advocates of additional road funding have been hoping for.
“For a leader like that of a huge business that has brought thousands of jobs to South Carolina, for him to say that is some of the biggest and most important news we’ve had,” Ross said. “We’re just hopeful other leaders of businesses will come out and comment. That’s what we’ve been lacking, having leaders in the business community come out and say that kind of thing.”
Simrill’s committee is looking at a two-part approach, the first being addressing reforms to the system, including the structure of the state Department of Transportation and trimming the state’s inventory of roads to return some of the shorter local roads back to local control.
Simrill said possible funding solutions include an inverted gas tax that would adjust up or down depending on the price of gas, swapping the gas tax in part or whole for the sales tax, and putting a penny sales tax on the ballot in 2016 for infrastructure needs.
“We are grateful as South Carolinians not only to have new businesses coming to South Carolina but existing businesses wanting to expand, and I think (House) Speaker Jay Lucas recognizes that tremendous responsibility that comes with that when it comes to infrastructure,” he said. “Certainly that is what this committee is tasked with doing and we are working toward that goal.”
Michelin operates 10 plans in South Carolina, including its newest, a $50 million facility in Piedmont the tire maker has said will produce the Tweel, a new airless radial tire designed for front-end loaders, commercial lawnmowers and all-terrain vehicles.